Is the Heckman Curve consistent with the empirical evidence on programme returns by age?

Friday, September 1, 2017
New Zealand Productivity Commission, Level 15, Fujitsu Tower, 141 The Terrace


David Rea,
Principal Advisor, Ministry of Social Development and
Research Fellow, Institute of Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand


Tony Burton,
Deputy Chief Economic Advisor, New Zealand Treasury

Time: 15.00 – 16.30 

The Heckman Curve depicts the empirical evidence on rates of return to public investment in human capital as rapidly diminishing with age. Investment early in the life course is characterised as providing significantly higher rates of return compared to investments targeted at people who are older.

This roundtable will discuss research using the Washington State Institute for Public Policy estimates of program benefit cost ratios to assess whether the Heckman Curve is consistent with the latest evidence. This research shows that the data does not support the claim that programs targeted earlier in the life course provide the largest returns, or that adult programs will have benefit cost ratios that are less than one. The research concludes by discussing the various features of both human capital and interventions that might explain why the predictions of the Heckman Curve are not consistent with the evidence.

Please note that RSVPs are essential and places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

David Rea is a Principal Advisor with the Ministry of Social Development. He has a PhD in economics from Cambridge University, teaches social policy at Victoria University, has undertaken a number of senior management roles within the Ministry, and is a passionate advocate of using evidence in service delivery and policy.

Tony Burton is the Deputy Chief Economic Advisor at the Treasury. His current work is focused on improving the use of economics in policy. Previously he has worked primarily on labour market incentives, poverty and the use of information and data in the UK Ministry of Health, the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development and the Treasury. Prior to joining the civil service he was an academic researching game theory and perceptions of risk. Tony has a Bachelor's degree in economics and philosophy from the University of Southampton and a Master's and PhD in economics from the University of East Anglia.