I am a Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Here is a link to a short version of my current CV. Here is my Google Scholar page.
My research focuses broadly on the economics of skill development, education and the labor market. I recently received the Early Career Award from the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP). In 2013 I was named a William T. Grant Scholar for my project, The Long-Run Influence of School Accountability: Impacts, Mechanisms and Policy Implications.
I am currently working on a project about social skills. The project is motivated by the slow growth of high-skilled jobs in the last decade and the widespread fear that “robots are going to take all of our jobs”. In a much-discussed paper, Frey and Osborne (2013) estimate that 47 percent of total U.S. employment is at high risk of automation over the next one to two decades. The figure below shows that the slowdown in high-skilled job growth is driven by science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations:
Computers are performing tasks of rapidly increasing cognitive complexity. Many of these tasks have formerly been the domain of highly-skilled workers. Yet to date, computers are largely incapable of simple interaction with humans, even in highly controlled settings. Social interaction is a largely unconscious process that has evolved in humans over thousands of years. This makes it hard to program, since we don’t understand “the rules” (Autor 2015). The application of social skill in the workplace often involves team production, with workers playing off each others' strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances.
The figures below are from my recent NBER working paper “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market”:
The O*NET is a survey administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that asks about the task requirements of jobs. I group occupations based on whether they are above or below the median in terms of 1) the extent of math and/or abstract reasoning required on the job; 2) the extent to which the job requires social interaction with other workers. See the paper for measurement details. Between 1980 and 2012, jobs with high social skill requirements grew by 9.3 percentage points as a share of all jobs in the U.S. economy. Growth was especially strong among jobs that had high math and high social skill requirements. Wage growth has also been stronger in occupations that require a lot of social interaction:
The growing return to social skills is pervasive and not restricted to management and other top-paying jobs. See the paper for details - an ungated copy can be found here.
If the labor market is increasingly rewarding social skills, is our education system currently designed to build and develop these skills? If not, how should education policy and classroom practice be designed to prepare us for the future of work?
I have several papers and projects in progress about online degree programs, for-profit colleges, and the industrial organization of higher education. In a recent paper, my colleagues Claudia Goldin, Larry Katz and Noam Yuchtman and I show that prices for online degree programs have fallen sharply over the last decade, despite rising prices for in-person degree programs.
My other current working papers include (1) a resume audit study of the returns to post-secondary degrees, including degrees from online for-profit colleges; (2) a study of the impact of high-stakes testing and school accountability in Texas on educational attainment and earnings; and 3) a study of the state takeover of the Lawrence, MA school district.