James Heckman, the University of Chicago Economist, won his Nobel for his work on econometric techniques to estimate various possible influences of wages. Over the last few years he has turned his focus to explaining the difference in skills and wages based on a worker’s education. Generally, he’s finding that skill gaps that exist at ages as young as 3 years old explain most of the difference. He describes his recent work over at Voxeu
To further complicate the problem those with low skills and income are not able to provide the environment to have their 5 year olds have the same level of skills as high skill and income 5 year olds. So the skill differences remain and it is harder to catch up.
Heckman is becoming a stronger advocate for pre-kindergarten education for disadvantage children. In terms of Presidential candidates Obama starts his education platform with a discussion of Zero to 5 year olds education. McCain discusses head start a policy aimed at 3-4 year olds in his early education policy, which Heckman suggests may be too late.