MAY 23, 2022 — John Abowd, associate director for research and methodology and chief scientist for the U.S. Census Bureau, is the inaugural recipient of the 2022 Edward Lazear Prize from the Society of Labor Economists (SOLE). The award recognizes excellence in research, exemplary service to the field and contributions to civil society.
“I am deeply honored to be the first recipient of the prize named for Eddie Lazear, whom I knew and admired for his entire career,” Abowd said. “It’s also especially meaningful to be recognized by my professional peers and friends.”
Abowd has made deep research contributions in several areas. His early work included influential papers on unions, such as a study of “queuing” for union jobs (Industrial and Labor Relations Review 1982), with Henry Farber, and a paper on how product market competition affects union wages (Quarterly Journal of Economics 1993), with Thomas Lemieux. In joint work with David Card (Econometrica 1989), Abowd carefully described the structure and statistical properties of wages and hours in the United States. While this and other work would have been sufficient to cement Abowd’s reputation as a leading labor economist, his seminal paper on worker and firm effects on wages (Econometrica 1999), with Francis Kramarz and David Margolis, revolutionized the use of matched employer-employee datasets. It presaged how these datasets would come to be used in a large fraction of labor economics research ever since.
Abowd’s service to the field of labor economics includes consistent contributions to SOLE, where he served as president. His efforts at the Census Bureau, starting in 1998, have included leading efforts to create datasets (and access to those datasets), such as the LEHD, that have been key to innumerable research advances in labor economics research. In addition, he has produced a large set of Ph.D. students who are carrying his work forward in labor economics research and public goods provision of useful data.
Abowd’s work at the Census Bureau has also led to important public policy advances. His work on census datasets is valuable across the social sciences. More recently, Abowd and other Census Bureau leaders worked tirelessly to ensure that the 2020 Decennial Census was a success despite the onset of a pandemic and vigorous attempts to politicize the effort.
Abowd became associate director for research and methodology, and chief scientist in June 2016. The Research and Methodology Directorate leads critical work to modernize our operations and products.
“Dr. Abowd is an internationally renowned leader in research and service to the field of labor economics. His work has led to important public policy advances that will benefit society. His accomplishments include creating a differentially private protection system for the 2020 Census and future data products,” Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin said. “We congratulate him on this well-deserved recognition.”
He is currently leading the Census Bureau’s efforts to create a differentially private protection system for the 2020 Census and future data products. The 2020 Census will be the world’s first large-scale data product to use the new safeguards. The system will provide formula-driven, finely calibrated protection against attempts to re-identify individuals in the statistics we publish. These emerging threats are a consequence of today’s powerful computers, advances in data science and the proliferation of easily accessible “Big Data” outside our control.
Abowd joined the faculty of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1987. He is the Edmund Ezra Day Professor of economics, statistics and information science.
Abowd is a fellow and past president of the Society of Labor Economists. He is also a fellow of the American Statistical Association and the Econometric Society, as well as an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.
From 2011 to 2016, he was the principal investigator for the Cornell University node of the National Science Foundation–Census Research Network (NCRN) and co-principal investigator of the NCRN coordinating office.
In addition to the Lazear Prize (2022), Abowd received the American Statistical Association's Roger Herriot Award (2014) from the Government and Social Statistics Sections and Julius Shiskin Award (2016) from the Business and Economic Statistics Section.
Abowd earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame.
The Lazear Prize, named for SOLE founder Edward Lazear, recognizes those who have displayed excellence in research, provided exemplary service to the field and contributed to civil society through government service or a public policy setting. The prize will be awarded biennially beginning in 2022.