Jacob Mincer Award 2023 Recipient

Joseph Altonji

Committee: Lawrence Katz (chair), Marianne Bertrand, David Green, Claudia Olivetti, Daniele Paserman, Uta Schoenberg, and John van Reenen 

The Society of Labor Economists awards the 2023 Jacob Mincer Award for lifetime contributions to labor economics to Joseph Altonji.

Joe Altonji is the Thomas DeWitt Cuyler Professor of Economics at Yale University and has taught there since 2002. He previously held faculty positions at Columbia University and Northwestern University. Joe earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1975 and his Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton University in 1981. He is a SOLE Fellow (elected in 2006), a past President of SOLE (2018-19), the 2018 recipient of the IZA Prize in Labor Economics, a Research Associate of the NBER, and a fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Joe Altonji has been an influential and insightful leader in labor economics for four decades with pioneering research contributions spanning most core areas of the field including labor supply, labor market cyclical fluctuations, economics of the family, wage determination, economics of education and estimation of returns to different educational investments, earnings dynamics, labor market discrimination, race and gender disparities in the labor market, and applied econometric methods. His work is notable in developing and implementing more rigorous empirical tests of economic theories to better understand the operation of labor markets, educational choices, and household decisions concerning labor supply and consumption. Along the way he has illuminated many policy-relevant issues and made fundamental and practical contributions to empirical methodology.

Joe Altonji’s early empirical research (Review of Economic Studies 1982) challenged a core tenet of real business cycle models that cyclical fluctuations in employment reflected optimizing labor-supply responses to expected real wages. He then provided more convincing micro panel data evidence on individual level intertemporal labor supply behavior (Journal of Political Economy 1986). His prominent series of papers (with Fumio Hayashi and Laurence Kotlikoff) assessed the extent to which the extended family represents the appropriate unit of economic decision-making including a clever and compelling test of whether parents and their adult children act as a single unified economic unit by examining the extent to which the distribution of consumption of parents and children systematically depends on the distribution of their incomes (American Economic Review 1992). Altonji also has done important work improving the econometric modeling of earnings dynamics (Econometrica 2009 with Anthony Smith and Ivan Vidangos) and providing new approaches to distinguishing labor market returns to job seniority vs. general labor market experience (e.g., Review of Economic Studies 1987 with Robert Shakotko).

Altonji is well-known for his seminal work on testing the key implications of employer public learning and statistical discrimination for the evolution of educational and racial wage gaps over the early careers of young workers (Quarterly Journal of Economics 2001 with Charles Pierret). He has made many important advances in trying to assess the role of specific course work in high school and the field of study in higher education (college major and graduate fields) in the labor market returns to education (e.g., Journal of Human Resources 1995; Journal of Labor Economics 2014 with Lisa Kahn and Jamin Speer; and Journal of Labor Economics 2021 with Ling Zhong).

Joe Altonji’s work always exemplifies a thoughtful combination of appropriate and rigorous economic theory combined with the application of the most credible empirical approaches at (or even beyond) the prevailing econometric frontier while attempting to use the most appropriate available data sets. He has pushed out the econometric frontier with innovative contributions to empirical methodology including his highly influential work on improving the assessment of the extent of selection on unobservables in the non-experimental estimation of program treatment effects by making better use of observable covariates including a classic application to estimating the economic returns to attending a Catholic school (starting with the 2005 piece in the Journal of Political Economy with Todd Elder and Christopher Taber).

Joe Altonji’s contributions to labor economics reflect tremendous breadth and depth as well as illustrating the gains to knowledge from taking economic theory seriously while assessing its plausibility with rigorous empirical evidence. His work is a model for applied microeconomists. Furthermore, Joe Altonji has a long and stellar record as a superb advisor to undergraduates and Ph.D. students and an amazing and caring mentor to young scholars