US economist. Heckman developed methods for evaluating economic and social programmes involving taxes, subsidies, and affirmative action policies, for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2000 with US economist Daniel McFadden, another applied microeconometrician.
Economic and social programmes typically rest on the collection of evidence about the characteristics of individuals at one moment of time, known as ‘panel data’. One abiding problem of analysing panel data is that participants in such programmes are frequently self-selected: a study of unemployment benefits, for example, is not based on a random sample of the unemployed but on a sample of the unemployed receiving benefits, which is by no means the same thing. Heckman devised a systematic procedure for neutralizing the bias inherent in analysing self-selected samples.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Heckman received an MA and PhD from Princeton University in 1968 and 1971. After a brief spell at Columbia University in the early 1970s, he joined the University of Chicago in 1974, becoming Professor of Economics from 1977 and Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor from 1995. He is also Distinguished Chair of Microeconomics at University College London in England (since 2004) and Professor of Science and Society at University College Dublin in Ireland (since 2005). He received the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association in 1983, the Jacob Mincer Award for Lifetime Achievement in Labor Economics in 2005, and the University College Dublin Ulysses Medal, also in 2005. He has been a Senior Fellow of the American Bar Foundation since 1991, and was president of the Midwest Economic Association in 1997.
His publications include Longitudinal Analysis of Labour Market Data (1985; with B Singer), Evaluating Social Programmes (1995), Performance Standards in a Government Bureaucracy (1999), and Handbook of Econometrics (six volumes, with E L Leamer).