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  • Writer's pictureDavid Deming

David Deming | Faculty Profile

David Deming, Faculty Co-director of the Project on Workforce

David Deming, Faculty Co-director of the Project on Workforce, is an economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He currently serves as Faculty Dean at HKS, and is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Principal Investigator at the Harvard Skills Lab, and author of the blog Forked Lightning.

Deming's research focuses on higher education, economic inequality, the future of the labor market, as well as teamwork, leadership, and decision-making skills. He is a Principal Investigator (along with Raj Chetty and John Friedman) at the CLIMB Initiative, an organization that seeks to study and improve the role of higher education in social mobility.

In 2022 David Deming won the Sherwin Rosen Prize for outstanding contributions to Labor Economics. In 2018 he was awarded the David N. Kershaw Prize for distinguished contributions to the field of public policy and management under the age of 40. He served as a Coeditor of the AEJ: Applied from 2018 to 2021. He also writes occasional columns for the New York Times.




Selected Projects

The Harvard Skills Lab — Measuring higher-order skills

The Harvard Skills Lab creates new, performance-based, scalable measurement tools for higher-order skills. We contribute to the basic science of human potential by defining and measuring concepts like teamwork, leadership and decision-making skills, with a focus on the changing demands of the labor market.

The College-to-Jobs Playbook — Exploring the intersection of higher education and the workforce

This playbook provides a framework to help college better deliver on the American Dream by creating a coherent, comprehensive taxonomy of the landscape of college-to-jobs programs and policies through a review of the existing academic research according to a set of common criteria. With a focus on public two-year and four-year colleges, Minority Serving Institutions, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it identifies 13 “interventions” within the college ecosystem that could be used to ease the transition into good jobs in the workforce.

Selected Research

Labor market increasingly values social skills; jobs requiring high social interaction grew by 12%, while math-intensive roles declined by 3.3% (1980-2012). Strong growth in employment and wages for jobs needing both math and social skills. Model suggests social skills reduce coordination costs, enhancing efficiency. Data show greater returns to social skills in the 2000s compared to the mid-1980s and 1990s.

Highly selective colleges favor high-income students. Adjusting admissions policies could diversify future leaders. Data suggests Ivy-Plus attendance boosts elite career prospects but exacerbates income inequality.

Research on Head Start's benefits: participants gain 0.23 SD in young adult outcomes, partially closing the income gap. Despite a test score fadeout, the impacts prove to be significant.

Study examines skill demands across firms, job ads. 10 general skills vary widely, correlate with pay, firm performance. Cognitive, social skills complement each other, enhance outcomes. Skills crucial beyond traditional labor market data.

Selected Media

Study reveals elite colleges favor wealthy applicants, even with similar test scores. For the same SAT/ACT scores, top 1% students 34% likelier to be admitted; top 0.1% more than twice as likely. Data exposes how elite colleges perpetuate wealth transfer, sparking calls for admission process reforms. Colleges claim urgency in diversifying income backgrounds since the study's 2015 end date.

David Deming and Bill Kerr of Harvard Business School discuss bridging college-to-career transition, emphasizing need for better integration of work-based learning. Data-driven approach via College-to-Jobs initiative aims to inform stakeholders for more effective pathways, highlighting value of internships and employer collaboration.

Despite skepticism, college still offers significant economic benefits. Research shows college graduates earn much more on average, although rising student debt challenges this. The college wealth premium, accounting for costs, is decreasing for recent cohorts, but history suggests earnings will grow. Though short-term debt may be a deterrent, long-term gains justify investment, especially for low- and middle-income students. Investing in workforce development and making college more affordable are crucial for economic mobility.

The Misguided War on the SAT | The New York Times

The article discusses the shift towards test-optional policies among selective colleges, prompted initially by the COVID-19 pandemic, but maintained thereafter. While lauded as a move towards equity, others argue that standardized test scores offer valuable predictive information about college success, especially for identifying lower-income students and underrepresented minorities with significant potential. Research indicates that test scores are often more reliable predictors than high school grades. Despite concerns about bias and inequity, standardized tests can help create diverse classes of highly talented students when used alongside other factors such as overcoming adversity in the admissions process. Critics worry that the abandonment of standardized tests may exacerbate biases in admissions and undermine efforts to promote excellence and diversity. The article suggests that the polarization of opinions on standardized testing reflects broader ideological divides in American society and urges a return to evidence-based decision-making.

Selected Articles

Four Facts about Human Capital | Journal of Economic Perspectives

In this paper, David Deming synthesizes economists' findings on human capital since Becker (1962). It highlights four key points: human capital explains earnings variations, offers high returns in youth, known methods exist for basic skills, yet technology complicates advanced skill acquisition. Though investing in education yields results, understanding the link between skills and earnings remains incomplete.

The article examines the benefits of attending Ivy-Plus colleges, comparing various research findings. While some studies suggest limited impact on average earnings, a new study using waitlist data reveals significant advantages, including higher top earnings and elite graduate school attendance. The waitlist design provides a unique perspective, indicating that expanding class size could benefit more students without compromising quality.

The article discusses doubts about a permanent shift to online learning. While online lectures offer flexibility, in-person education remains valuable for personalized interactions. Concerns arise over affordability and quality differentiation in on-campus learning, but Deming argues for broader access to quality on-campus education and warns against solely relying on online learning for cost reduction, emphasizing the importance of personal connections in education.

The article discusses the recent release of FIRE's College Free Speech rankings, which placed Harvard at the bottom due to concerns about free expression on campus. Despite some methodological criticisms, survey results reveal Harvard's poor performance on various measures of free expression. Possible reasons include university policies, ideological homogeneity, and misperceptions of peers' views. Deming suggests addressing these issues to foster more open dialogue on campus and cites research showing that correcting misperceptions can lead to behavior change, suggesting practical ways to encourage open discussion.


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