Jonathan Guryan

Jonathan Guryan

*ON LEAVE 9/ 2019 - 8/ 2020 *

Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy
Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research


Jonathan Guryan is Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and a courtesy member of the Economics Department and the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a co-founder and co-director of the Education Lab in the Urban Labs at the University of Chicago. Much of his research falls into two main categories, understanding the sources and consequences of racial inequality and the economics of education. His work on these subjects has been published in leading journals such as the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, Developmental Psychology, Educational Psychology, and the Review of Economics and Statistics.

In one study he found that the court-ordered school desegregation plans of the 1970’s led to declines in high school dropout rates among black students. In another study, with Kerwin Charles, he evaluated the role that racial prejudice plays in the determination of wage differences between blacks and whites. In ongoing work with Kenneth Chay and Bhashkar Mazumder, he is studying the effect of early access to health care on the black-white test score gap. He has also studied the labor market for teachers; a subsidy for investments in Internet access in schools; technology assisted learning in classrooms; demand for lottery tickets; and peer effects among professional golfers.

His work has been funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has also been awarded grants by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences  and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to conduct and study an experimental evaluation of an intervention designed to reduce truancy in the Chicago Public Schools.

Prior to joining the Northwestern faculty in 2010, Jonathan Guryan taught at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where he was Assistant Professor of Economics from 2000-2004 and Associate Professor of Economics from 2004-2010.

Curriculum Vitae

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Year Degree Institution
2000 PhD, Economics Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1996 AB, Economics Princeton University

Selected Publications

Heller, S., Shah, A., Guryan, J., Ludwig, J., Mullainathan, S., and Pollack, H. (February, 2017). Thinking Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago. Quarterly Journal of Economics: 1-54.
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Garfield, C.F., Karbownik, K., Murthy, K., Falciglia, G., Guryan, J., Figlio, D., Roth, J. (2017). Educational Performance of Children Born Prematurely. JAMA Pediatrics: 171(8): 764-770 .

Kim, J., Burkhauser, M., Quinn, D., Guryan, J., Kingston, H., Aleman, K. (2017). Effectiveness of Structured Teacher Adaptations to an Evidence-Based Summer Literacy Program. Reading Reserach Quarterly: 52(4): 385-388 .

(2015). Do Lottery Payments Induce Savings Behavior: Evidence from the Lab. Journal of Public Economics.
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Figlio, David, Guryan, Jonathan, Karbownik, Krzysztof, Roth, Jeffrey (December, 2014). The Effects of Poor Neonatal Health on Children's Cognitive Development. American Economic Review: 3921-3955.
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Charles, K., and J. Guryan (2011). Studying discrimination: Fundamental challenges and recent progress. Annual Review of Economics 3(1): 479–511.

Kim, J., and J. Guryan (February, 2010). The efficacy of a voluntary summer book reading intervention for low-income Latino children from language minority families. . Journal of Educational Psychology 102(1): 20-31.

Guryan, J., and M. Kearney (2010). Is Lottery Gambling Addictive?. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2(3): 90-110.

Guryan, Jonathan with Matt Notowidigdo and Kory Kroft (October, 2009). Peer Effects in the Workplace: Evidence from Random Groupings in Professional Golf Tournaments. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(4): 34-68.

Guryan, Jonathan with Olivier Deschenes and Michael Greenstone (May, 2009). Climate Change and Birth Weight. American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, 99(2): 211-217.

Guryan, Jonathan (2009). The Race Between Education and Technology: A Review Article. Journal of Human Capital, Summer 2009: 3(2): 177-196.

Guryan, Jonathan with Joshua D. Angrist (October, 2008). Does Teacher Testing Raise Teacher Quality? Evidence from Teacher Certification Requirements. Economics of Education Review, 27(5): 483-503.

Guryan, Jonathan with Kerwin Charles (October, 2008). Prejudice and Wages: An Empirical Assessment of Becker’s The Economics of Discrimination. Journal of Political Economy, 116(5): 773-809.

Guryan, Jonathan with Erik Hurst and Melissa S. Kearney (2008). Parental Education and Parental Time with Children. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3).

Research Interests

Understanding the sources and consequences of racial inequality and the economics of education.


Works In Progress

2013 The Effects of Poor Neonatal Health on Children's Cognitive Development
We make use of a new data resource, merged birth and school records for all children born in Florida from 1992 to 2002, to study the effects of birth weight on cognitive development from kindergarten through schooling. Using twin fixed effects models, we find that the effects of birth weight on cognitive development are essentially constant through the school career; that these effects are very similar across a wide range of family backgrounds; and that they are invariant to measures of school quality. We conclude that the effects of poor neonatal health on adult outcomes are therefore set very early.

2013 Do Lottery Payments Induce Savings Behavior: Evidence From the Lab
This paper presents the results of a laboratory experiment designed to investigate whether the option of a Prize Linked Savings (PLS) product alters the likelihood that subjects choose to delay payment. By comparing PLS and standard savings products in a controlled way, we find strong evidence that a PLS payment option leads to greater rates of payment deferral than does a straightforward interest payment option of the same expected value. The appeal of the PLS option is strongest among men, self-reported lottery players, and subjects with low bank account balances. We use the results of our experiment to structurally estimate the parameters of the decision problem governing time preference, risk aversion, and probability weighting. We employ the parameter estimates in a series of policy simulations that compare the relative effectiveness of PLS products as compared to standard savings products.

2009 Birth Cohort and the Black-White Achievement Gap: The Roles of Access and Health Soon After Birth
One literature documents a significant, black-white gap in average test scores, while another finds a substantial narrowing of the gap during the 1980’s, and stagnation in convergence after. We use two data sources – the Long Term Trends NAEP and AFQT scores for the universe of applicants to the U.S. military between 1976 and 1991 – to show: 1) the 1980’s convergence is due to relative improvements across successive cohorts of blacks born between 1963 and the early 1970’s and not a secular narrowing in the gap over time; and 2) the across-cohort gains were concentrated among blacks in the South. We then demonstrate that the timing and variation across states in the AFQT convergence closely tracks racial convergence in measures of health and hospital access in the years immediately following birth. We show that the AFQT convergence is highly correlated with post-neonatal mortality rates and not with neonatal mortality and low birth weight rates, and that this result cannot be explained by schooling desegregation and changes in family background. We conclude that investments in health through increased access at very early ages have large, long-term effects on achievement, and that the integration of hospitals during the 1960’s affected the test performance of black teenagers in the 1980’s.

2014 Early Life Environment and Racial Inequality in Education and Earnings in the United States
Chay, Guryan and Mazumder (2009) found substantial racial convergence in AFQT and NAEP scores across cohorts born in the 1960’s and early 1970’s that was concentrated among blacks in the South. We demonstrated a close tracking between variation in the test score convergence across states and racial convergence in measures of health and hospital access in the years immediately after birth. This study analyzes whether the across-cohort patterns in the black-white education and earnings gaps match those in early life health and test scores already established. It also addresses caveats in the earlier study, such as unobserved selection into taking the AFQT and potential discrepancies between state-of-birth and state-of-test taking. With Census data, we find: i) a significant narrowing across the same cohorts in education gaps driven primarily by a relative increase in the probability of blacks going to college; and ii) a similar convergence in relative earnings that is insensitive to adjustments for employment selection, as well as time and age effects that vary by race and state-of-residence. The variation in racial convergence across birth states matches the patterns in the earlier study. The magnitude of the earnings gains is greater than can be explained by only the black gains in education and test scores for reasonable estimates of the returns to human capital. This suggests that other pre-market, productivity factors also improved across successive cohorts of blacks born in the South between the early 1960’s and early 1970’s. Finally, our cohort-based hypothesis provides a cohesive explanation for the aggregate patterns in several, previously disconnected literatures.

2015 Motivation and Incentives in Education: Evidence from a Summer Reading Experiment
For whom and under what conditions do incentives work in education? In the context of a summer reading program called Project READS, we test whether responsiveness to incentives is positively or negatively related to the student’s baseline level of motivation to read. Elementary school students were mailed books weekly during the summer, mailed books and also offered an incentive to read, or assigned to a control group. We find that students who were more motivated to read at baseline were more responsive to incentives, suggesting that incentives may not effectively target the students whose behavior they are intended to change.

2015 Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes for Disadvantaged Youth
There is growing concern that improving the academic skills of children in poverty is too difficult and costly once they reach adolescence, and so policymakers should instead focus either on vocationally oriented instruction or else on early childhood education. Yet this conclusion might be premature given that so few previous interventions have targeted a key barrier to school success: “mismatch” between what schools deliver and the needs of youth, particularly those far behind grade level. The researchers report on a randomized controlled trial of a school-based intervention that provides disadvantaged youth with intensive individualized academic instruction. The study sample consists of 2,718 male ninth and tenth graders in 12 public high schools on the south and west sides of Chicago, of whom 95 percent are either black or Hispanic and more than 90 percent are free- or reduced-price lunch eligible. Participation increased math achievement test scores by 0.19 to 0.31 standard deviations (SD), depending on how the researchers standardize, increased math grades by 0.50 SD, and reduced course failures in math by one-half in addition to reducing failures in non math courses. While some questions remain, these impacts on a per-dollar basis—with a cost per participant of around $3,800, or $2,500 if delivered at larger scale—are as large as those of almost any other educational intervention whose effectiveness has been rigorously studied.

2015 Thinking Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago
This paper describes how automatic behavior can drive disparities in youth outcomes like delinquency and dropout. We suggest that people often respond to situations without conscious deliberation. While generally adaptive, these automatic responses are sometimes deployed in situations where they are ill-suited. Although this is equally true for all youths, disadvantaged youths face greater situational variability. This increases the likelihood that automaticity will lead to negative outcomes. This hypothesis suggests that interventions that reduce automaticity can lead to positive outcomes for disadvantaged youths. We test this hypothesis by presenting the results of three large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of interventions carried out on the south and west sides of Chicago that seek to improve the outcomes of low-income youth by teaching them to be less automatic. Two of our RCTs test a program called Becoming a Man (BAM) developed by Chicago-area non-profit Youth Guidance; the first, carried out in 2009-10, shows participation improved schooling outcomes and reduced violent-crime arrests by 44%, while the second RCT in 2013-14 showed participation reduced overall arrests by 31%. The third RCT was carried out in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) in 2009- 11 and shows reductions in return rates of 21%. We also present results from various survey measures suggesting the results do not appear to be due to changes in mechanisms like emotional intelligence or self-control. On the other hand results from some decision-making exercises we carried out seem to support reduced automaticity as a key mechanism.

2014 Does Reading During the Summer Build Reading Skills? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in 463 Classrooms
There are large gaps in reading skills by family income among school-aged children in the United States. Correlational evidence suggests that reading skills are strongly related to the amount of reading students do outside of school. Experimental evidence testing whether this relationship is causal is lacking. We report the results from a randomized evaluation of a summer reading program called Project READS, which induces students to read more during the summer by mailing ten books to them, one per week. Simple intent-to-treat estimates show that the program increased reading during the summer, and show significant effects on reading comprehension test scores in the fall for third grade girls but not for third grade boys or second graders of either gender. Analyses that take advantage of within-classroom random assignment and cross-classroom variation in treatment effects show evidence that reading more books generates increases in reading comprehension skills, particularly when students read carefully enough to be able to answer basic questions about the books they read, and particularly for girls.

Last Updated: 2020-05-22 14:00:00