UCI professor wins prestigious Swiss award for work on childhood poverty

Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize includes $1.09 million

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 18, 2013 – UC Irvine’s Greg Duncan, a leading scholar in the field of early childhood education and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has been awarded the 2013 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize for his groundbreaking work on the lasting effects of poverty on child development. Bestowed by the Zurich-based Jacobs Foundation, the honor comes with 1 million Swiss francs ($1.09 million).

“I am deeply honored and excited that this prize will help launch new research initiatives that I’m planning,” Duncan said. “Low-income children enter kindergarten far behind high-income children in terms of concrete literacy and math skills, and they have more difficulty paying attention in class. My research seeks a better understanding of why this is the case.”

Duncan will use the funds to support work with neuroscientists, developmental psychologists and economists assessing how poverty-reducing income supplements over a child’s first three years of life affect parenting and the child’s cognitive development. The experimental study will involve 1,000 families and be conducted at several sites around the U.S.

A Distinguished Professor of education, Duncan has published extensively on issues of income distribution, poverty and child development throughout his 40-year career. His research – which has important implications for the future of work-support programs and early childhood education – shows that helping low-income parents balance the demands of work and family leads to both better careers for them and higher achievement for their children.

Deborah Vandell, dean of UC Irvine’s School of Education, praised Duncan for his record of sustained, innovative research and his history of scientific leadership.

“Professor Duncan has forged a profoundly interdisciplinary career dedicated to understanding the complex dynamics and contexts of child and youth development,” she said. “In a talented field, he is the preeminent scholar studying the effects of poverty on child and adolescent development.”

His research is especially critical in light of growing income inequality in the U.S. “We’ve discovered a widening gap in the school attainments of children over the past 40 years, with test scores and college graduation rates rising sharply for high-income children but changing very little for lower-income children,” Duncan said.

A highly educated workforce is needed to meet the challenges brought about by new technology and the global economy. Increasingly, however, low-income students are ill-prepared for well-paying middle-class jobs, Duncan said, because of the schools they attend and because they’re less likely to participate in the enrichment activities that high-income families provide for their offspring. “America has lost its leadership among high-income countries in educating children,” he said. “With time, this threatens America’s economic prosperity.”

In honor of its founder, the late Swiss businessman and philanthropist Klaus J. Jacobs, the Jacobs Foundation has since 2009 annually awarded a research prize endowed with 1 million Swiss francs and a best practice prize endowed with 200,000 Swiss francs for exceptional achievements in the field of child and youth development. Duncan will accept his prize at a ceremony in December in Zurich.

About the University of California, Irvine: Located in coastal Orange County, near a thriving employment hub in one of the nation’s safest cities, UC Irvine was founded in 1965. One of only 62 members of the Association of American Universities, it’s ranked first among U.S. universities under 50 years old by the London-based Times Higher Education. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine has more than 28,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.3 billion annually to the local economy.

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