Jencks is currently the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1954 and was president of the school's newspaper, the Exonian, as a senior. After Exeter, he received an A.B. in English literature from Harvard in 1958, followed by a M.Ed. in Harvard Graduate School of Education. During the year 1960-1961 he studied sociology at the London School of Economics. He has previously held positions at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara.
His interests are in the study of education, social stratification, social mobility, poverty and the poor. His recent research concerns changes in family structure over the past generation, the costs and benefits of economic inequality, the extent to which economic advantages are inherited and the effects of welfare reform. Prior to his university career, he was an editor at The New Republic from 1961 to 1967 and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC from 1963 to 1967. He served as an editor of The American Prospect.
Jencks was on the dissertation committee at Harvard's Kennedy School that awarded former member of The Heritage Foundation Jason Richwine with a Ph.D. for his thesis, "IQ and Immigration Policy". Criticized for the way it linked race to I.Q. levels, the thesis lost Richwine his job at the Foundation. Asked for comment by journalist and historian Jon Wiener on why he would consider such a dissertation worthy of a PhD, Jencks replied "Nope. But thanks for asking." Wiener argued that Jencks, as "the author of important books, including Inequality: Who Gets Ahead?, The Homeless and The Black White Test Score Gap . . . knows exactly what’s wrong with the studies purporting to link 'race' with 'IQ.'"
Prizes, awards and honors
- American Council on Education, co-recipient, Borden Prize for Best Book on Higher Education, 1968
- American Sociological Association, co-recipient, Best Book in Sociology, 1974
- Association of American Publishers, Best Book in Sociology and Anthropology, 1994
- Harry Chapin Media Award, 1995
- Frank Knox Fellowship, 1960–61
- Guggenheim Fellowship, 1968 and 1982
- Member, Institute for Advanced Study, 1985–86
- Visiting scholar, Russell Sage Foundation, 1991–92
- Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, 1997–98 and 2001–02
- Member of the National Academy of Education.
- Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Member of the National Academy of Sciences, 1997.
- American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2002
- American Philosophical Society, 2004
- Doctor of Laws, Kalamazoo College (1969) and Columbia College (1984)
- The Academic Revolution (with David Riesman, 1968, reissued 2001)
- Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effects of Family and Schooling in America (with seven co-authors, 1972)
- Who Gets Ahead? (with eleven co-authors, 1979)
- The Urban Underclass (with Paul Peterson, 1991)
- Rethinking Social Policy (1992)
- The Homeless (1994)
- The Black-White Test Score Gap (with Meredith Phillips, 1998)
- Wiener, Jon (11 May 2013). "Why Did Harvard Give a PhD for a Discredited Approach to Race and IQ?". The Nation.
- "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
- Postman, Neil; Weingartner, Charles (1973), The School Book, Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence
- Curriculum vitae of Jencks
- Citation for Jencks[permanent dead link] on website of American Academy of Political and Social Science
- Official homepage at Harvard University
- Citationfor Jencks on website of the National Academy of Sciences
- Biographical sketch[permanent dead link], Stanford University.
- Membership list, National Academy of Arts and Sciences