One of the nation’s leading labor economists joins Rice

Kenneth Wolpin, widely recognized as one of the nation’s pre-eminent labor economists, has joined Rice University’s Economics Department.


Antonio Merlo, department chair, director of the Rice Initiative for the Study of Economics (RISE), department chair and the George A. Peterkin Professor of Economics, called Wolpin, a “game changer.”

“Not only is Ken one of the most influential scholars in labor economics and empirical microeconomics, but he is also an extraordinary mentor of graduate students and junior faculty alike,” Merlo said.

Merlo said Wolpin is also a pioneer in the development of new empirical methods and theoretical models for the study of labor markets, investments in human capital and social policy.

“His work has become a staple for research in economics,” Merlo said. “It exemplifies the rigorous combination of economic theory, econometrics and data analysis, which is the very foundation of RISE.”

Wolpin previously chaired the Economics Department at the University of Pennsylvania and served as a research associate at Penn’s Population Studies Center. At Rice, he will be the Lay Family Chair in Economics and a distinguished research professor. His research focuses on the labor market and demographic decisions of households and individuals in dynamic settings. Recently he has studied the role of public welfare and marriage markets in accounting for race differences in education, marriage, fertility and labor supply of women; the importance of technological change in explaining the increase in the college premium and in the male-female wage gap; the effect of borrowing constraints on college attendance, and the importance of home inputs in accounting for race differences in cognitive achievement.

Wolpin said he “could not turn down the opportunity to contribute” to the Rice Initiative for the Study of Economics.

“The presidential initiative to rebuild the Economics Department at Rice, combined with the appointment of Antonio Merlo to spearhead the effort, will create an environment where world-class scholarship will flourish,” Wolpin said.

Wolpin received a B.S. in economics from the City College of New York and a Ph.D. in economics from the City University of New York. He has been widely published in the discipline’s top journals, with research support from noteworthy organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

“I have been at the forefront of an effort to raise awareness within the profession of the critical role of economic theory in inferential policy-relevant empirical work,” he said.

Wolpin looks forward to continuing to expand his research and his “active role” in advising graduate students, as well as helping attract new faculty talent to Rice.

Lyn Ragsdale, dean of Rice’s School of Social Sciences, said Wolpin “will provide an exceptional anchor” in the Rice Economics Department.”

“Professor Wolpin is one of the world’s top labor economists who studies real-world issues, including the female-male wage gap, the value of a college degree and differences in earning power among people of distinct backgrounds,” she said.

For more information about RISE, contact Rice’s Department of Economics at

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.