Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Emotional skills and inequality

James Heckman provides some useful insights into economic inequality:
"...an emerging literature shows that much more than smarts is required for success in life. Motivation, sociability, the ability to work with others, the ability to focus on tasks, self-regulation, self-esteem, time preference, health, and mental health all matter. In an earlier time, these traits were part of what was called “character.” A substantial body of research shows that earnings, employment, labour force experience, college attendance, teenage pregnancy, participation in risky activities, compliance with health protocols, and participation in crime are all strongly affected by non-cognitive as well as cognitive abilities."
He is referring to "social-emotional skills", which are often only taught implicitly, if at all, in schools. What is particularly interesting is the return on investment on early intervention programs. In particular, he discusses the Perry preschool program, which yielded a 10% return per dollar of cost. In contrast, later interventions (such as high school programs or job training) yield much lower returns.

As Heckman says, "skills beget skills". If we want to address inequality, we have to address it early in life.

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