Don’t wait: Skill begets skill; skill cross-fosters motivation

James Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, writes on the growing polarization in American society and concludes:

The family plays a powerful role in shaping adult outcomes that is not fully recognised by current American policies. As programs are currently configured, interventions early in the lives of disadvantaged children have substantially higher economic returns than later interventions such as reduced pupil-teacher ratios, public job training programs, convict rehabilitation programs, adult literacy programs, tuition subsidies, or expenditure on police. This is because life-cycle skill formation is dynamic in nature. Skill begets skill; motivation begets motivation. Motivation cross-fosters skill, and skill cross-fosters motivation. If a child is not motivated to learn and engage early on in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, he or she will fail in social and economic life. The longer society waits to intervene in the life cycle of a disadvantaged child, the more costly it is to remediate disadvantage.

Read more at VOX. Thanks for the pointer to Richard Baldwin at freeexchange| who frames the U.S. presidential race in the context of Heckman’s results:

Progressives want the Presidential campaign to be about American inequality; conservatives the American family. Professor James Heckman, an economist with a Nobel Medal on his desk, has just accomplished the unlikely task of writing a Vox column that both camps will cite in the debate over what’s wrong with America and how to fix it.

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