Jacob Mincer Award 2022 Recipient

Lawrence F. Katz

Committee: Ken Wolpin (chair), Lance Lochner, John van Reenen, Marianne Bertrand, Martha Bailey, Nicole Fortin, Daniele Paserman

The Society of Labor Economists awards the Jacob Mincer Award for lifetime contributions to labor economics to Lawrence F. Katz.

Katz graduated from Berkeley in 1981 and earned his Ph.D. in Economics from MIT in 1985. He returned to Berkeley as an assistant professor and joined the economics faculty of Harvard University after one year, where he is currently the Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics. He is a SOLE Fellow (elected 2005), a past SOLE President (2013–14), Research Associate of the NBER, Fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Research Fellow at the IZA. Katz was Chief Economist of the U.S. Department of Labor and has served on several important institutions' advisory boards.

Katz’s most influential research studies the evolution of wage inequality in advanced countries. He focuses on the fundamental role of technological change and education. His 1992 QJE paper with Murphy developed the “canonical framework,” a simple model expressing the educational wage premium as reflecting observable shifts in educational supply and a residual technical change term. He found that although increases in the supply of skilled workers reduce inequality, technology often favors more skilled workers, increasing inequality. With Autor and Krueger, he found that increases in observable technology indicators, such as computer usage and R&D, increase skill demand, further bolstering the skill-biased technological change hypothesis. Researchers have adopted these methods to analyze changing inequality in many countries.

His authoritative book, The Race between Education and Technology (2008), with Claudia Goldin, examines how the growth of educational institutions contained inequality for most of the 20th century. The slow-down in educational attainment for cohorts entering the labor market after roughly 1980 increased the return to schooling in the last quarter of the century.

With Autor and Kearney (AER, 2006 and REStat, 2008), Katz argues for a more nuanced role of technology. Digital technologies tend to replace routine tasks performed by occupations in the middle of the wage distribution, where wages and employment fell noticeably from the 1990s, compared to both the top and bottom of the earnings distribution. European studies replicate this “hollowing-out” of “middle jobs.” His recent work shows that the growth of large “superstar firms” with low labor shares and high-profit margins explains the decline in labor’s share of GDP (QJE, 2020). Again, he links this to changes in the fundamental nature of technologies.

Other work demonstrates the importance of place. With Kling and Liebman (Econometrica, 2007 and QJE, 2001), he demonstrated that although changing neighborhoods did not raise adults’ earnings, it substantially improved their mental health. With Chetty and Hendren (American Economic Review, 2016), he found that better neighborhoods helped the future labor-market outcomes of younger children.

In sum, Lawrence Katz is an extraordinarily productive scholar who has changed the face of social science. His work is marked by an intense empirical seriousness and a strong focus on policy. His research seeks to change the world, not just to interpret it.

Beyond his research contributions, Katz has provided distinguished service to the profession as editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE) for the past thirty years. Under his leadership, the QJE has become the most widely cited economics journal. His success in reducing review times at the QJE has set the standard for other top journals in economics. He is renowned for his generous mentorship of junior scholars and his decency and respect in dealing with other economists.