A Biographical Sketch of Wei Lun Visiting Professor
Orley Ashenfelter as introduced December 14, 2000 at The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Professor Orley Ashenfelter is Joseph Douglas Green 1895
Professor of Economics and Director of the Industrial
Relations Section at Princeton University and has been Editor
of the American
Economic Review, the world's largest
peer-reviewed economics journal, for the past 15 years. His
innovative research has spanned a broad array of topics in
the economic analysis of labor markets.
As Director of the Office of Evaluation of the US
Department of Labor in 1972, Professor Ashenfelter began the
work that is now widely recognized as the separate field of
"quantitative social program evalution." His
influential work on the econometric evaluation of government
retraining programs led to the systematic development of
rigorous methods for the quantative evaluation of many social
programs. The key characteristic of these methods is the goal
of simplicity and credibility in the quantitative analyses.
Without credibility, Professor Ashenfelter recognized, the
results of any analysis will never lead to social changes.
The methods he developed included the use of randomized
trials for the evaluation of training programs, convincingly
demonstrated by him in 1976 and the rigorous development of
longitudinal program evaluation methods (now often called the
"difference-in-differences" methods) in 1978.
Professor Ashenfelter is also regarded as the originator
of the use of so-called "natural experiments" to
infer causality about economic relationships. This approach,
now becoming universal in all the social sciences, is
associated with Princeton University's world famous
Industrial Relations Section, of which Professor Ashenfelter
is the Director. His research using twins to control for
genetic factors that may confound the estimation of the
payoff to schooling is an example of this approach. He has
also used this approach to estimate the valuation of a
statistical life, the impact of arbitration statutes on
wages, the impact of the end of mandatory retirement rules on
the retirement decisions of faculty, and the effects of many
other public policies that affect the labor market.
Professor Ashenfelter has also been the leader in the very
recent emphasis in quantitative economic analysis on the use
of creative methods of data collection. Faced with what
seemed an impossible task in the absence of the appropriate
data, he moved his research forward by engaging in creative
data collection. To study the effects of training programs on
worker earnings using longitudinal data, Professor
Ashenfelter was a leader in persuading the appropriate
governmental agencies to part with administrative records
that contained the crucial information. His research on the
payoff to schooling among twins is based on data collected
directly in the field at a festival twins annually attend.
His study of faculty retirement decisions is based on
retrospective data collected directly from Universities.
Through his work with a long list of outstanding graduate
students at Princeton University, Professor Ashenfelter has
done nothing less than lead a quiet movement that has
revolutionezed the study of labor markets.
In addition, Professor Orley Ashenfelter is a Guggenheim
fellow and Benjamin Meeker Visiting Professor at the
University of Bristol. He edited the Handbook of Labor
Economics and is currently co-editor of the American
Law and Economics Review.