Gary Becker Biography


Birthday: December 2, 1930 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Pottsville, Pennsylvania, United States

Gary Becker was an American economist who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992. Described as “the most important social scientist in the past 50 years” by the ‘New York Times’, he was also the recipient of the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was one of the first economists to extend the tenets of microeconomic analysis to a wider range of human issues like family organization, drug addiction, racial discrimination, crime, etc. He was also one of the main exponents of the study of human capital. Born to a Jewish family in Pennsylvania, he was an athletic boy who was more interested in sports than in intellectual pursuits up to his mid-teens. He was a good student nonetheless, and ultimately when he had to choose between sports and academic activities, he went for academics. Having loved mathematics from an early age, he also became deeply interested in economics and sociology as a young man. He attended Princeton University and eventually earned his PhD from the University of Chicago, before embarking on an academic career. Known for extending the scope of economic research to sociological issues, he was credited with the "rotten kid theorem." His economic analysis of democracy is also quite famous.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Gary Stanley Becker

Died At Age: 83

Economists American Men

Died on: May 3, 2014

place of death: Chicago, Illinois, United States

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

Grouping of People: Nobel Memorial Prize In Economic Sciences

More Facts

education: Princeton University, University of Chicago

awards: 1992 - Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
1967 - John Bates Clark Medal
2007 - Presidential Medal of Freedom

John von Neumann Award
2000 - National Medal of Science for Behavioral and Social Science

Childhood & Early Life
Gary Stanley Becker was born on December 2, 1930, in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, United States to a Jewish family. He had two sisters and one brother. His father ran a small business.
Even though his parents were not well educated, his father had a deep interest in financial and political issues. The older man began losing his sight and it fell upon the young boy to read out the news to him. This played a key role in kindling Becker’s interest in economics.
As a teenager, he was more interested in sports than in intellectual activities even though he was a good student. He eventually chose academic pursuits over sports when he realized that he could wholeheartedly pursue just one of these.
He went to the Princeton University where he earned his BA in 1951. He then proceeded to the University of Chicago for graduate work in economics where he got the chance to attend the famed economist Milton Friedman's course on microeconomics.
During this time, he was also exposed to the works of economists like Gregg Lewis, T.W. Schultz, and Aaron Director who were doing innovative research in the subject. He became an Assistant Professor at Chicago after his third year of graduate study and earned his PhD in 1955.
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He accepted a teaching position at Columbia University in 1957. There he started a workshop on labor economics and related subjects. After a few years economist Jacob Mincer also joined the Columbia department and became co-director of the workshop. This marked a very exciting period for the economists who did significant research on human capital.
Along with Mincer, he developed the New Home Economics, primarily based on Becker's theory of allocation of time. This work focused on the results of his research on the family, including analyses of marriage, divorce, fertility, and social security.
In 1970 he returned to the University of Chicago as a professor of economics. By this time prominent individuals like George Stigler and Harry Johnson had joined the department which made the atmosphere a very stimulating one.
Becker and Stigler wrote two papers together: one of the stability of tastes and the other, an early treatment of the principle-agent problem, both of which proved to be highly influential.
He performed vital research in the field of labor economics. Due to the involvement of the human element in such studies, he focused on the motivating factors of human behavior rather than on the study of broad economic trends and extended microeconomic analysis to topics traditionally belonging to sociology.
His unconventional mode of working was not appreciated by many of the leading contemporary economists of his era. However, the younger economists were more open-minded towards including sociological issues in economic research.
After teaching at the economics department at Chicago for many years, he was offered a joint appointment at the sociology department as well in 1983. Here he collaborated with James Coleman to launch an interdisciplinary faculty seminar on rational choice in the social sciences which proved to be very successful.
In addition to his academic duties and research, he also wrote a monthly column for ‘Business Week’ from 1985 to 2004. Becker joined hands with Judge Richard Posner to start a joint weblog called ‘The Becker-Posner Blog’ in 2004.
Major Works
Gary Becker, along with Jacob Mincer popularized the concept of human capital, a term that refers to all the knowledge, talents, skills, abilities, experience, intelligence, training, judgment, and wisdom possessed individually and collectively by individuals in a population. He is remembered for his extensive analysis of the same.
He proposed the “rotten kid theorem” which is a thought experiment in economics counted among the most famous theorems within family economics, and applied mechanism design. According to the theorem, even selfish family members will act to help one another if their personal incentives are properly aligned.
Awards & Achievements
Gary Becker was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1992 "for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including nonmarket behavior."
He was also the recipient of several other awards like Pontifical Academy of Sciences (1997), National Medal of Science (2000), and John von Neumann Award (2004).
In 2007, he was honored with the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Personal Life & Legacy
Gary Becker’s first marriage was to Doria Slote in 1954. The couple had two daughters. His wife died in 1970 and he later married Guity Nashat in 1980. His second wife was a historian of the Middle East. Becker had two stepsons from this marriage.
He died in Chicago, Illinois, on May 3, 2014, after complications from surgery, at the age of 83.

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