ECI network member Stefanie Schurer recently met with HCEO to discuss her work exploring the evolution of skills, preferences, and health over the life course.

"This really is a new area of research," Schurer says, nothing that economics used to consider these fixed traits that remained relatively stable over time. "Really in the last decade, researchers have asked, 'Can we actually shape character traits, or personality traits?' And this is exactly the type of research that I’m doing."

Schurer believes that you cannot understand skill trajectories over the life course without looking into the family. "I really understand the family as the key producer of human development over the life course," she says. "I always classify the parents' behavior as the good, the bad, and the ugly. I really think that most researchers are really concerned about the good...But there’s very little research on the bad and the ugly." Schurer contributes to all three strands of research, including looking at child maltreatment.

In dealing with such sensitive issues, Schurer has learned a lot about responsibly sharing research findings. "Traditionally as a researcher, you would be concerned only about peer review, and concerned about the technical correctness of your identification strategies," she says. "But now we have this social responsibility that we could actually harm children’s lives, or their families lives by communicating research findings to the public before we have really communicated this to the communities and assessed the potential consequences it could have."

Schurer concludes by positing that anyone concerned with increasing economic growth should be concerned with family policy. "The productivity potential of a society really depends on its human capital, it depends on the quality of human beings that you’re producing," she says. "A series of research studies are showing that human development depends so much on family policy: the way you structure parental leave payments, welfare payments, and how much support you give parents. So from this perspective, I really think family policy is the new growth policy. You can’t have an innovation-oriented economy without looking into the determinants of character formation."

Schurer is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Sydney.