William A. Ackman Professor of Economics, Harvard University; Director, Opportunity Insights
Raj Chetty is the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of Opportunity Insights. His research, which combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies, currently focuses on equality of opportunity. Chetty was previously an economics professor at Stanford University and at University of California, Berkeley. His work on tax policy, unemployment insurance, and education has been cited in media outlets and congressional testimony, and honors for his research include a MacArthur Fellowship and the John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is making the most significant contribution to the field.
This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity
Raj Chetty: The first is that where you grow up really seems to matter… If you take a given child and help that child move to a higher opportunity area where we're seeing better outcomes for kids who grew up there from birth, that child ends up doing much better, has significantly better life outcomes, not just in terms of earnings, but a variety of other outcomes like college attendance rates, lower rates of incarceration, and so forth. Second, what really seems to matter is childhood environment rather than where you're living as an adult. We see in this study and in other analyses we've done that helping people move to a different area after they're 23 or so has essentially no impact on their economic outcomes. Third, you see that every extra year of childhood exposure to a better environment leads to better outcomes. So there's kind of a dosage response here. If you spend two years in a better area that yields some benefit. If you spend four years or six years in a better area, you get a cumulatively larger impact.