The Work Goes On

James Heckman on his early academic career and the work that makes him proud


James J. Heckman,Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago, joins the podcast to discuss graduate school at Princeton, why an often overlooked paper on the effect of civil rights laws is his favorite, and much more.

In this episode, Heckman and Ashenfelter discuss:

  • The “very fundamental role” Rees played in Heckman’s life, including convincing Heckman to attend graduate school at Princeton–and then later gave Heckman the worst grade he ever got at Princeton. “He was tough! He was very tough!”
  • The impact played by the Vietnam War on Heckman’s decision to remain in graduate school.
  • Heckman’s dissertation on the labor supply of women and “shadow wages,” and how it inspired his interest in the application of statistical methods to labor market problems.
  • Why his 1989 paper on the racial integration of textile mills in the South is his favorite paper. “That’s the proudest thing I've ever done.”


Heckman earned his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1971. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000 and the John Bates Clark Medal in 1983. He is also the director of the Center for Social Program Evaluation at the Harris School. "The Work Goes On"—a podcast produced as Princeton's Industrial Relations Section (IR Section) celebrates its 100th anniversary—is an oral history of industrial relations and labor economics hosted by Princeton's Orley Ashenfelter.



Heckman, James, J. and Ganesh Karapakula. “Intergenerational and Intragenerational Externalities of the Perry Preschool Project”. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 25889, May 2019.

Heckman, James, J. and Stefano Mosso. “The Economics of Human Development and Social Mobility” Annual Review of Economics 6, no. 1 (2014): 689-733.

Heckman, James J., and Brook S. Payner. “Determining the Impact of Federal Antidiscrimination Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks: A Study of South Carolina.” The American Economic Review 79, no. 1 (1989): 138–77.