Does Character Matter?

Essays on Opportunity and the American Dream

Richard V. Reeves
Release Date: May 15, 2015

Richard Reeves introduces this collection of short essays with a challenge: “I defy you to find a richer set of writings on the philosophical, empirical, and practical issues raised by a focus on character, and in particular its relationship to questions of opportunity.”

The evidence? The works of sixteen thoughtful skeptics of and enthusiasts for the public endeavor of character cultivation. The authors in this collection provide differing political perspectives to give at least equal weight to the moral dimensions of character as well as strong demands to honor individual free will and individual development.

This collection includes essays that draw attention to the gendered nature of character formation; stress the importance of culture, social norms; and explain the impact of chronic stress in the early years. Still others argue that the construction of a policy agenda for the cultivation of character poses a stark challenge to the partisan culture of contemporary politics, but may also alleviate it by reinvigorating community life.

As Reeves writes, don’t take his word for it. Read the essays and see for yourself.


Richard V. Reeves

Skills and Scaffolding
James Heckman

Character Is Experience
Joseph Fishkin

Free Will: The Missing Link between Character and Opportunity
Martin E. P. Seligman

Conscientiousness: A Primer
Brent Roberts

Chronic Adversity Shapes Character

Ross Thompson

Responsible Parenting: A Test of Character?
Isabel Sawhill

Gendered Character
Jen Lexmond

Women, Character and Competition
Carmit Segal

Cultures Build Character
Stuart Butler

Grit and Community
Mark Dunkelman

Schools of Character
Dominic Randolph

Morality before Performance          
Marvin Berkowitz

Authority and Morality Build Character
Lawrence M. Mead

We Need Empathy, Too
Amitai Etzioni

Character Education: A Cautionary Note
Mike Rose

The Thorny Politics of Mobility
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky