Economic, Neurobiological and Behavioral Perspectives on Building America's Future Workforce

26 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2006 Last revised: 10 Aug 2010

See all articles by Eric I. Knudsen

Eric I. Knudsen

Stanford University - School of Medicine

James J. Heckman

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Judy L. Cameron

University of Pittsburgh

Jack P. Shonkoff

Harvard University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 2006

Abstract

A growing proportion of the U.S. workforce will have been raised in disadvantaged environments that are associated with relatively high proportions of individuals with diminished cognitive and social skills. A cross-disciplinary examination of research in economics, developmental psychology, and neurobiology reveals a striking convergence on a set of common principles that account for the potent effects of early environment on the capacity for human skill development. Central to these principles are the findings that early experiences have a uniquely powerful influence on the development of cognitive and social skills, as well as on brain architecture and neurochemistry; that both skill development and brain maturation are hierarchical processes in which higher level functions depend on, and build on, lower level functions; and that the capacity for change in the foundations of human skill development and neural circuitry is highest earlier in life and decreases over time. These findings lead to the conclusion that the most efficient strategy for strengthening the future workforce, both economically and neurobiologically, and for improving its quality of life is to invest in the environments of disadvantaged children during the early childhood years.

Suggested Citation

Knudsen, Eric I. and Heckman, James J. and Cameron, Judy L. and Shonkoff, Jack P., Economic, Neurobiological and Behavioral Perspectives on Building America's Future Workforce (June 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12298. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=908537

Eric I. Knudsen

Stanford University - School of Medicine ( email )

291 Campus Drive
Li Ka Shing Building
Stanford, CA 94305-5101
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James J. Heckman (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60637
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773-702-0634 (Phone)
773-702-8490 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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American Bar Foundation

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Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

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CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

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Judy L. Cameron

University of Pittsburgh ( email )

135 N Bellefield Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

Jack P. Shonkoff

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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