Kenneth Arrow Biography

Kenneth Arrow is an American economist whose works have earned him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1972. This biography of Kenneth Arrow provides detailed information about his childhood, life, career, achievements & timeline.

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Kenneth Joseph Arrow
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Economist & Political Theorist
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Leo    Leo Men
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New York City, USA
Selma Schweitzer
David Michael, Andrew Seth
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John Bates Clark Medal (1957)
Nobel Prize in Economics (1972)von Neumann Theory Prize (1986)
National Medal of Science (2004)
ForMemRS (2006)

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Kenneth Arrow is an American economist whose works have earned him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciencesin 1972. He is best known for his contributions in the ‘General Equilibrium’ theory and ‘Welfare- Economics’. A mathematics graduate from the Columbia University, he became interested in economics under the guidance of reputed statistician Harold Hotelling, and subsequently shifted his career into economics. As an academician, he has taught at prestigious universities like the Stanford University and Harvard University. As part of his research, he has contributed various theories and ideas in economics, like the Arrow’s impossibility theorem, Arrow–Debreu model in mathematical economics and The Fundamental theorems of Welfare Economics. In 1972, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences along with Sir John Hicks for ‘their pioneering contributions to general economic equilibrium theory and welfare theory’. He is among the first economists to identify the presence of a learning curve in economic theory, along with linking increased experience to higher productivity. At present, he is the Joan Kenney Professor of Economics and Professor of Operations Research, Emeritus at Stanford University.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Kenneth Joseph Arrow was born to Harry and Lilian on 23 August 1921 in New York City, USA. He has a sister named Anita Arrow Summers who also grew up to become an economist.
  • After completing his high school education from the Townsend Harris High School in New York City, he went on to pursue graduation from City College, New York. In 1940 he graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Social Science but a major in Mathematics.
  • In 1941, he completed his n M.A. in Mathematics from Columbia University. At the university, he studied under mathematics statistician Harold Hotelling who had a great influence on him.
  • Between the years 1942 and 1946, during the World War II, he served in the United States Armed City Corps as a weather officer subsequently rising to the rank of a Captain.
  • He spent the following three years pursuing his graduation studies in Economics at the Columbia University along with research work at the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics affiliated to the University of Chicago. Between 1948 and 1949 he worked as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.
  • In 1942, he was appointed at the Stanford University as Assistant Professor of Economics and Statistics. He later became Professor of Economics, Statistics, and Operations Research and continued work at the University until 1968.
  • In 1951 he published the ‘Impossibility theorem’ also known as Arrow's paradox in his book titled ‘Social Choice and Individual Values’. The theorem states that ‘when voters have three or more distinct alternatives (options), no ranked order voting system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide (complete and transitive) ranking while also meeting a pre-specified set of criteria.’ The defined criteria are unrestricted domain, non-dictatorship, Pareto efficiency, and independence of irrelevant alternatives.
  • In 1951 he put forward the first and second fundamental theorems of welfare economics along with their proofs.
  • A few years later he along with Lionel W. McKenzie and Gérard Debreu developed a model that introduced a modern theory of General Equilibrium in economics. As per their approach, the understanding of terms in theory was not set by axioms.
  • In 1954, he along with Gérard Debreu introduced one of the most integral as well as common part of the General Equilibrium theory. According to the Arrow–Debreu model, ‘under certain economic assumptions there must be a set of prices such that aggregate supplies will equal aggregate demands for every commodity in the economy’.
  • In 1968, he joined Harvard University as Professor of Economics and taught there till 1979. In 1979, he returned to Stanford University as Joan Kenney Professor of Economics and Professor of Operations Research. In 1991 he became Professor Emeritus at Stanford University.
  • Among his numerous publications are his major works ‘Social Choice and Individual Values’ (1951), ‘Existence of a Competitive Equilibrium for a Competitive Economy’ with Gerard Debreu (1954), ‘The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing’ (1962), ‘Essays in the Theory of Risk Bearing’ (1971), ‘General Competitive Analysis’ with Frank Hahn (1971) and ‘The Limits of Organization’ (1974).
Major Works
  • He is a respected economist and writer known for his findings in the field of welfare economics. He has worked on economic theory and operations with focus on ideas like general equilibrium analysis, social choice theory, inventory theory, risk handling, information economics and the new- growth theory.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1957, he received the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association.
  • In 1959, he was inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Other academic societies that he is a member include the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Econometric Society, the American Statistical Association and the American Philosophical Society.
  • In 1972, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics along with British economist John Hicks.
  • In 1986 he received the John von Neumann Theory Prize presented by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
  • In 2004, he received the 2004 National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush.
  • He was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London in 2006.
  • He has received honorary degrees of LL.D. from renowned universities such as the University of Chicago and the City University of New York. He also was given an honorary degree as Doctor of Social and Economic Sciences from the University of Vienna.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1947 he married Selma Schweitzer and the couple have two sons: David Michael and Andrew Seth who both grew up to pursue acting.
  • He has served as the President of various professional societies like Econometric Society in 1956, The Institute of Management Sciences in 1963 and American Economic Association in 1973.

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- May 11, 2016
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