Black History Month Spotlight: Linda Datcher Loury

In the third week of celebrating historical black scholars for Black History Month, we will share the story of one of the key pioneers of the field of social economics: Linda Datcher Loury.

Loury’s unique, evidence-based approach helped shape the development of social economics as a field from the 1980s onwards. She helped shed light on how race, background, and familial and social relationships influence educational and job attainment.

Linda Datcher Loury (1952-2011) was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned her B.A. in economics, with a concentration in Black Studies from Swarthmore College in 1973. After this, she graduated with her Ph.D. in psychology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1978. There, she met her future husband and research collaborator, Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at Brown University. After graduating from MIT, she held research and teaching positions at the University of Michigan and the Kennedy School of Government. Loury then transitioned to Tufts University in 1984.

A Professor of Economics at Tufts University, Dr. Loury’s influential research focused primarily on family and neighborhood relations and labor market achievements. Her research paved the way for us to further understand the role that socio-economic background and demographic factors play in educational and job performance. These factors include the types of neighborhoods in which people grew up, educational background of an individual’s grandparents, amount of time mothers spent at home, and examining what factors affect how well individuals do in college.

Some meaningful results from her studies showed firstly that extended family members alter educational outcomes for same-gender adolescents. Secondly, maternal childcare time increases with higher maternal home productivity, and more frequent childcare time of highly educated (but not less well-educated) mothers significantly raises children’s years of schooling.

In addition to these studies, Dr. Loury is the author of and contributed to many seminal papers. These papers include “Job Information Networks, Neighborhood Effects, and Inequality”, along with “Effects of Community and Family Background on Achievement”, “Some Contacts Are More Equal than Others: Informal Networks, Job Tenure, and Wages”, and “Am I still too Black for you?: Schooling and secular change in skin tone effects“.

Due to Dr. Loury’s contributions, she was referred to as the “grandmother” of economic research on peer effects and social interactions. As a true economist, she was driven by her love of numbers and data. She used this method to understand and share the truth behind any research question. Loury evaluated commonly held social beliefs with academic scrutiny. As stated by Roland Fryer, the Robert M. Beren professor of economics at Harvard: “It’s an exceedingly rare quality for someone to use their intuition to develop questions for research topics, but then put intuition on the back burner and let data guide them the rest of the way. That’s what she did.’’

Furthermore, Loury was involved in the creation of several courses during her tenure at Tufts. These include Women in the Labor Market, Income Inequality, Poverty and Economic Justice, Topics in Non−Competitive Labor Markets, and Blacks and Labor Markets.

Her interest in achievement spanned beyond her academic work and was shown by her community involvement and contributions. For example, she founded a network of African American families in the Boston area, volunteered in her children’s school, and was an active member of her church’s efforts to assist disadvantaged children.

Dr. Loury made countless vital contributions to economics research at Tufts until she died in 2011 due to cancer at 59. It was evident that she had a brilliant mind. Her unique research spanned a wide range of topics related to labor economics and covered the impact of systemic issues that confronted a range of communities, especially low-income Blacks. As a true pioneer in the field, her life and research have inspired modern-day scientists. Her work helped identify potential barriers to achievement while showing what can be done in the behavioral science space to tackle these issues as we aim to advance this generation of black scientists.

Be sure to read our final Black History Month post next week, where we will cover a present African American scientist that has contributed to behavioral science.

Shaye-Ann McDonald is a researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University, an applied behavioral science research lab that helps people be happier, healthier, and wealthier. You can reach her at