Shuqiao Sun, a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics, has been selected as the first recipient of the James N. Morgan Innovation in the Analysis of Economic Behavior Award. The award, a memorial in honor of the late Jim Morgan who had been the founding director of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the developer of SEARCH (one of the first data mining programs), is intended to help fund the research of one U-M graduate student for a substantively or methodologically innovative project using data from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID).

Sun, who received Economics (B.A. ‘13) and Statistics (B.S. ‘13) degrees from Peking University in China prior to coming to UM, will be using this award to further his research in examining evidence of dynamic complementarities between early stages of childhood using PSID’s comprehensive data collection on family background, public program participation, and adult human capital and socioeconomic outcomes. He is hoping to find different stages of childhood investment interact and complement each other, which would support a way of investing in children with continuous follow up both at school and at home.

It was Sun’s previous research in family economics, both on his own (in 2017, his work on “Birth Order and Unwanted Fertility” was supported by ISR’s George Katona Award) and in collaboration with other economists (such as with Martha Bailey and Brenden Timpe evaluating the long-run impacts of Head Start), that would ultimately inspire his current research. While these experiences had provided Sun with excellent training, they left him asking many unanswered questions such as why the effects of childhood interventions could be so different across individuals, and how parents would react to their children’s early achievement.

Since children from poor families already face many disadvantages even before they enter school, addressing these disadvantages early on may prove to be the most effective way to prevent (rather than cure) poverty. Early childhood investments appear to have large and prolonged human capital returns - individuals go on to complete more years of education, perform better on the labor market, and have a lower risk of poverty. Sun knows just how important this work will be, especially in the face of current budget cuts to Head Start and U.S. family planning programs that have been such valuable resources for disadvantaged children and families. He recognizes that research in this area will be quite valuable in facilitating good, evidence-based policy-making and may even help policy makers understand how to break the cycle of poverty.