Sherwin Rosen Prize 2022 Recipient 

David Deming

Committee: Christian Dustmann (Chair), David N. Figlio, Jenny Hunt, Larry Katz, Magne Mogstad

In 2022, the Society of Labor Economists awards the Sherwin Rosen Prize to David Deming for outstanding contributions to labor economics.

David Deming is the Isabelle and Scott Black Professor of Political Economy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Deming earned his Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard University in 2010 and served as an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University the following year. He has taught at Harvard University since then. He has served as a Co-Editor of the AEJ: Applied Economics and the Journal of Human Resources.

David is a creative and outstanding scholar who has made first-order contributions on a wide range of labor and applied economics topics. His research illuminates important policy-relevant questions that push the research frontier, including articles on higher education, skill development, economic inequality, technological change, the long-run impacts of early and K-12 schooling, and the connections between education and criminal activity.

Deming’s most profound impact may come from his work on the labor market returns to skills. In “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market” (QJE, 2017), David illustrates how work is placing greater emphasis on “soft skills” like teamwork, social perceptiveness, problem-solving, communication, and adaptability. The labor market increasingly rewards social skills, while the share of less social, purely cognitive intensive jobs is shrinking. He develops a team-production model where workers “trade tasks” to exploit their comparative advantage. Those with more social skills are advantaged in trade, which enhances specialization and efficiency. He tests the model’s implications for sorting and the relative returns to skill across occupations. He documents the increased wage gain from sorting into social-skill-intensive occupations in the 2000s for the 1997 NLSY cohort compared to the 1980s and 1990s for the 1979 cohort.

With Ben Weidmann, he followed up this work with experimental evidence (Econometrica 2021) that gets inside the black box of the social-skills/team-performance relation and identifies qualities of “team players.” His research characterizing the returns to experience as a race between on-the-job learning and skill obsolescence with Kadeem Noray, (QJE 2020) similarly brings remarkable data analysis to new theoretical insights. It upends conventional wisdom about the lifetime returns to certain credentials and fields of study. His 2018 JOLE paper with Lisa Kahn presents evidence from a massive database of job postings that cognitive and social skills are complementary.

David has made exceptional contributions to the economics of education. His 2009 AEJ-Applied paper uses a within-family siblings design to provide compelling longer-run evidence on the returns to early childhood educational investment. His 2014 AER paper (with Justine Hastings, Thomas Kane, and Douglas Staiger) documents the long-run implications of school choice and the importance of school quality. Deming has been a leader on policy-related issues in higher education, including the role and regulation of private for-profit post-secondary institutions, the rise of online programs and institutions, the design of student financial aid policies and public-college funding. His 2016 AER paper (with Noam Yuchtman, Amira Abulafi, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz) presents evidence regarding the value of degrees and certificates from online programs, for-profit colleges, and non-selective public institutions.