Shelly Lundberg, an IP network member, is the Leonard Broom Professor of Demography at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Adjunct Professor of Economics at the University of Bergen, Norway. She is a Fellow and past President of the Society of Labor Economists and a Research Fellow at IZA. She is also currently an associate editor of the Journal of Population Economics and a member of the editorial boards of the American Economic Review and the Review of Economics of the Household. Lundberg’s research focuses on labor economics and the economics of the family, including issues such as discrimination, inequality, family decision-making, and the intra-household allocation of resources. Recent projects include studies of decision-making by children, the effects of child gender on parental behavior, the location decisions of married couples, and the impact of government-provided care for the elderly on the labor supply of adult children, and the economic returns to psychosocial traits.


Describe your area of study and how it relates to current policy discussions surrounding inequality.

For many years, the focus of my research has been decision-making in families and households—how husbands and wives bargain over the allocation of resources, how children acquire decision-making power, how an inability to commit to future actions can affect the formation or dissolution of families.  These processes affect inequality within households between men and women, adults and children, but also drive inequality across households through their effects on income, family structure, and even location.

More recently, I have been studying educational attainment and how individual skills interact with early environment (as measured by socioeconomic status, gender, and race/ethnicity) to generate success in adulthood. Environment-trait interactions appear to be important—the payoffs to particular skills aren’t the same for everyone. Measuring individual capabilities in this context is a challenge because behaviors, which are often used as indicators of skills, are also determined by circumstances, making comparisons across groups facing different constraints and incentives problematic.


What areas in the study of inequality are most in need of new research?

There is so much to learn about the journey from conception to old age and why it differs so dramatically across individuals—it’s hard to say. Two general questions that we need to know more about: What are the key determinants of resilience to adverse circumstances in childhood? Can we identify important dimensions of heterogeneity in responses to policy interventions?


What advice do you have for emerging scholars in your field?

Stand back and think about the big picture from time to time. Your early publications depend on finding the right data, an unexploited source of exogenous variation, a policy change—this leads naturally to a narrow and precise focus. But a coherent body of research emerges from a broader understanding of the issues that comes from reading and listening to others. Confession: this is not in any sense a description of what I did (or do).