Jonathan Guryan

Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy | Chair of IPR’s Program on Education Policy


Economist Jonathan Guryan’s work spans various topics related to labor markets, education policy, and social interaction. His research interests include the causes and consequences of racial inequality, the development of skills and human capital in both early childhood and adolescence, the labor market for teachers, social interactions in the workplace, youth violence, and lottery gambling. In recent projects, he has investigated the effectiveness of an individualized, intensive math-instruction program, and the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy based interventions for at-risk youth.

Guryan is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He also serves as a co-director of the Urban Education Lab, an editor of the Journal of Labor Economics, and a research consultant for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. His research has received support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, W. T. Grant Foundation, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Institute for Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education. In 2009, he received the John T. Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Award from the Labor and Employment Relations Association. Before joining Northwestern, he was on the faculty of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Current Research

Preventing Truancy in Urban Schools to Enhance Student Engagement and Learning. While urban high school dropouts have received a great deal of policy attention, the problem almost always starts much earlier with truancy from school. However, very little is known about the risk and protective factors that lead to truancy—and even less about effective remedies.

To shed light on this issue, Guryan is leading the first large-scale randomized effectiveness trial of Check & Connect, a structured mentoring, monitoring, and case management program. This intervention focuses on reducing chronic absenteeism and improving school engagement by pairing a mentor with students at risk for dropping out of school. It is one of the few interventions where positive effects for staying in school have been found, based on two small trial studies.

Guryan is studying second, third, fourth, and ninth graders who have a record of chronic absences in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district, the country’s third largest. The study uses two-level randomization, across and within schools, to identify the intervention’s causal effects on the target students and other students within the same school. Researchers will start by randomly assigning between 450 and 700 CPS students to a Check & Connect mentor for two years. They will then compare the assigned students to control groups of more than 4,000 CPS students within the treatment and control schools. Other data, such as arrest records, will also be included, and researchers will conduct personal surveys with students and their parents to pinpoint changes in family structure and dynamics that might contribute to the student’s truancy.

Reducing Juvenile Delinquency by Addressing Social-Emotional Learning. Each year between 300,000 and 600,000 youth spend time in juvenile detention facilities around the nation, with a disproportionate number being low-income and minority youth. Guryan, Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, and Sara Heller of the University of Pennsylvania have undertaken a project to examine the effectiveness of a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) based intervention aimed at helping youth to make decisions that help them avoid future arrests. Using a randomized experimental design, Guryan and Ludwig will begin collecting data on all the approximately 4,000 male juveniles, most of whom are Latino or African American, entering a county juvenile detention system over 14 months. These youth were randomly assigned to either a typical residential center or one providing a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention to promote noncognitive skill development. The results suggest the CBT based intervention effectively reduced the rate at which youths who participated in the program returned to the juvenile detention center.

Reducing the Achievement Gap in Reading through READS, a Voluntary Summer Reading Program. Once children enter school, a reading gap between students of high and low socioeceonomic status (SES) appears and begins to grow, likely exacerbated by the loss of instruction over the summer months for low SES students. Guryan is leading a five-year, multi-district randomized controlled trial to implement and evaluate the READS program, Reading Enhances Achievement During the Summer, developed by James Kim of Harvard University. The program, which has to date shown moderate effectiveness in reducing “summer loss” and improving reading, will be administered to approximately 10,000 students in 70 North Carolina elementary schools over the course of the study. Students are sent two books biweekly over summer break. Matched to student interests and reading level, the books are also paired with family activities to support summer reading. Members of the control group receive the books and activities at the start of school. Pre- and posttests as well as reading tests are used to measure impact. In addition to monitoring student achievement and overall progress, Guryan will also examine different variations of READS that could improve its effectiveness, measure cost-effectiveness, and identify those elements useful for replicating and further expanding the program.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Heller, S., A. Shah, J. Guryan, J. Ludwig, S. Mullainathan, and H. Pollack. Forthcoming. Thinking, fast and slow? Some field experiments to reduce crime and dropout in Chicago. Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Figlio, D., J. Guryan, K. Karbownik, and J. Roth. In press. Long-term cognitive and health outcomes of school-aged children who were born late-term vs full-termJAMA Pediatrics.

Figlio, D., J. Guryan, K. Karbownik, and J. Roth. 2014. The effects of poor neonatal health on children’s cognitive development? American Economic Review 104(12): 4205–30.

Filiz-Ozbay, E., J. Guryan, K. Hyndman, M. Kearney, and E. Ozbay. 2013. Do lottery payments induce savings behavior? Evidence from the labJournal of Public Economics 126: 1–24.

Guryan, J., and K. Charles. 2013. Taste-based or statistical discrimination: The economics of discrimination returns to its roots. Economic Journal 123(572): F417–F432.

Charles, K., and J. Guryan. 2011. Studying discrimination: Fundamental challenges and recent progress. Annual Review of Economics 3(1): 479–511.

Guryan, J., and M. Kearney. 2010. Is lottery gambling addictive? American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2(3): 90–110.

Guryan, J., and M. Kearney. 2009. Gambling at lucky stores: Empirical evidence from state lottery salesAmerican Economic Review 98(1): 458–73.

Guryan, J., K. Kroft, and M. Notowidigdo. 2009. Peer effect in the workplace: Evidence from random groupings in professional golf tournaments. American Journal of Applied Economics 1(4): 34–68.   

Guryan, J., and K. Charles. 2008. Prejudice and wages: An empirical assessment of Becker’s The Economics of Discrimination. Journal of Political Economy 116(5): 773–809.

Guryan, J., E. Hurst, and M. Kearney. 2008. Parental education and parental time with childrenJournal of Economic Perspectives 22(3):2346.

Guryan, J. 2004. Desegregation and black dropout ratesAmerican Economic Review 94(4): 919–43.