James Heckman earns international honor for his research on poverty

Nobel laureate James Heckman is one of this year’s recipients of the Dan David Prize, an international honor which encourages innovative and interdisciplinary research, for his scholarship on poverty.

Heckman was among three world-renowned economists recognized in the category of “combating poverty,” along with Profs. Sir Anthony Atkinson of the London School of Economics and François Bourguignon of the Paris School of Economics.

According to the Dan David Foundation in Tel Aviv, which announced the awards Feb. 11, Heckman’s work “promotes the importance of early childhood education, nurture and well-being. His findings fundamentally refocus policy attention, claim wide generality and will influence the discussion of global poverty worldwide.”

Prof. David Nirenberg, dean of the Division of the Social Sciences, praised Heckman’s work, saying, “It is impossible to overstate the significance of Prof. Heckman’s achievements and his enormous contribution in the fight to eradicate poverty. His research addresses key topics crucial to our understanding of socioeconomic success and human flourishing more broadly, and has led to effective policies for the improvement of child and social welfare in the United States and around the world.”

Heckman is director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, which uses rigorous empirical research to determine effective human capital policies and program design. One of the center’s capstone projects is the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development, which finds that investing in early educational and developmental resources for disadvantaged families leads to a more capable, productive and valuable workforce.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized for what is, ultimately, a career-long passion—to understand the origins of inequality and the determinants of social mobility,” Heckman said. “This generous gift will help mobilize further research that will shed light on how we can best invest in early childhood development so that even our most disadvantaged populations can reach their highest human potential.”

Named after the late Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist, this year’s prizes honor laureates in three categories: social history, combating poverty and nanoscience. Past recipients include cellist Yo-Yo Ma, former Vice President Al Gore, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, AIDS virus co-discoverer Robert Gallo and artist William Kentridge.

The laureates, who donate 10 percent of their $1 million prize money toward 20 doctoral and postdoctoral scholarships, will be honored at a May 22 ceremony at Tel Aviv University.