Robert C. Merton Biography

Robert C. Merton is an American economist who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1997. This biography profiles his childhood, life, academic career, achievements and timeline.

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Robert Cox Merton
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New York City, New York, USA
Robert K. Merton
Suzanne Carhart
June Rose (1966-1996)
Samantha J., Robert F., Paul J
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Columbia University, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1997)

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Robert C. Merton is an American economist who received the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on developing a financial theory on the risk management of stock derivatives. He also contributed to the assessment of stock options and derivatives. He shared the Nobel Prize with another economist Myron S. Scholes whose ‘Black-Scholes Formula’ for the valuation of options, developed in collaboration with Fischer Black, provided the basic foundation for Merton’s work. Fischer Black could not share the Nobel Prize with Merton and Scholes as he had died in 1995. Merton’s research work covered a large number of aspects related to finance and economics. His main work which probably produced the maximum impact was the work on determining the value of options. Before the development of the ‘Black-Scholes Formula’ it was very difficult and risky to determine the value of stock options which allowed the investors to sell the assets at any price at any point of time. The investors used to incorporate some hedge money as a risk premium into the price of options as safety measure against major financial losses. The ‘Black-Scholes Formula’ showed that risk premiums are already factored into the price of options. Merton’s work was to elaborate this formula so that it could be generalized for other things such as mortgages and student loans.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Robert C. Merton was born in New York, New York State, USA on July 31, 1944. His father was Robert K. Merton, a professor of sociology at the ‘Columbia University’ and his mother was Suzanne Carhart from a Methodist Quaker family from New Jersey.
  • He had an older sister, Stephanie and a younger sister, Vanessa.
  • He did his schooling from a local public school in Hastings-on Hudson where he graduated with ninety other students.
  • He wanted to become an automobile engineer when he grew up and even worked for Ford in Dearborn Michigan during two summers of his college days.
  • He studied Engineering Mathematics at the ‘Columbia University’ and won a ‘Faculty Scholarship Award’ in 1964. He obtained his B.S. degree in 1966.
  • Thereafter he attended the ‘California Institute of Technology’ from 1966 to 1967 and did his M.S. in Applied Mathematics 1967.
  • He changed over to study economics at the ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’ and earned his PhD in economics from MIT in 1970.
  • Robert C. Merton did his first consulting job in 1969 for a bank in Southern California.
  • From 1969 to 1970 he worked as an Instructor at the ‘Department of Economics’ at MIT.
  • From 1970 to 1973 he taught finance at the ‘A. P. Sloan School of Management’ at MIT as an Assistant Professor of Finance, as an Associate Professor from 1973 to 1974 and as a Professor from 1974 to 1980. He was a ‘J. C. Penny Professor of Management’ from 1980 to 1988 at MIT.
  • In 1972 Merton and Myron Scholes were appointed by Mathew Gladstein to work for ‘Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette’ for developing a model for option pricing and hedge money which they duplicated later for the ‘Chicago Board Options Exchange’.
  • He served as a Research Associate at the ‘National Bureau of Economic Research’ in 1979.
  • From 1987 to 1988 he was a ‘Visiting Professor of Finance’ at the ‘Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University’.
  • He was a Director of ‘Nova Fund’ from 1980 to 1988, trustee at ‘ABT Growth and Income Trust’ from 1982 to 1988, Director of ‘ABT Utility Income Fund’ from 1983 to 1988, Director of ‘Travelers Investment Management Company from 1987 to 1991, and trustee at the ‘College Retirement Equities Fund’ from 1988 to 1996.
  • Merton was the Director of the ‘American Finance Association’ from 1982 to 1984, in 1986 and again from 1987 to 1988.
  • He joined the faculty of the ‘Harvard Business School’ in 1988 and taught at the ‘Graduate School of Business Administration’ as a ‘George Fisher Baker Professor of Business Administration’ from 1988 to 1998. He became its first ‘John and Natty McArthur University Professor’ in 1998.
  • He was a special consultant to the ‘Office of the Chairman’ of ‘Salomon’ from 1988 to 1992.
  • He was an ‘Invited Professor of Finance’ at the ‘Faculte des Sciences Economiques, Universite de Nantes’ during June 1993.
  • He was made a fellow of the ‘Econometric Society’ in 1983, a Fellow of the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ in 1986, a Member of the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ in 1993, a Senior Fellow of the ‘International Association of Financial engineers’ in 1994, a Fellow of the ‘Institute for Quantitative Research in Finance’ in 1997 and an Honorary Member of the ‘Bachelier Finance Society’ in 1997.
  • He served as the Vice-President of ‘The Society for Financial Studies’ from 1993 to 1996.
  • Merton was also one of the principal members and a partner of an investment firm named ‘Long-Term Capital Management’ from 1993 to 1998 and served on the editorial boards of numerous economic journals.
Major Works
  • Robert C. Merton has written many treatises on economics. His book ‘Continuous-Time Finance’ was published in 1990.
  • He also co-authored the books ‘Cases in Financial Engineering: Applied Studies of Financial Innovation’ and ‘The Global Financial System: A Functional Perspective’ both published in 1995 and ‘Finance and Financial Economies’ published in 1998.
Awards & Achievements
  • Robert C. Merton received the ‘Salgo-Noren Award for Excellence in Teaching’ in 1971-72 and the ‘Graduate Student Council Teaching Award’ in 1977-78 from MIT.
  • He received the ‘Leo Melamed Prize’ from the ‘Chicago University’ in 1983 and the ‘First Prize, Roger Murray Prize Competition’ from the ‘Institute of Quantitative Research in Finance’ in 1985-86.
  • He received the ‘Distinguished Scholar Award’ from the ‘Eastern Finance Association’ in 1989, and in 1993 he got the ‘International INA-Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei Prize’ from the ‘National Academy of Lincei, Rome’, the ‘FORCE Award for Financial Innovation’ from the ‘Fuqua School of Business, Duke University’ and the ‘Financial Engineer of the Year Award’ from the ‘International Association of Financial Engineers’.
  • In 1997 Merton received the Nobel Prize in Economics.
  • He received an honorary ‘Master of Arts’ degree from the ‘Harvard University’ in 1989 and an honorary ‘Doctor of Laws’ degree from the ‘University of Chicago’ in 1991.
  • He became a ‘Professeur Honoris Causa’ of the ‘hautes Etudes Commerciales’ of Paris in 1995, a ‘Doctoris Honoris Causa’ by the ‘University of Lausanne’ in 1996 and a ‘Doctoris Honoris Causa’ by the ‘University of Paris-Dauphine’ in 1997.
  • The ‘National Sun Yat-sen University’ awarded him an ‘Honorary Doctor’ degree in 1998 and the same year he was inducted into the ‘Derivatives Hall of Fame’.
  • In 2011 he received the ‘Melamed-Arditti Innovation Award’ from the ‘CME Group’ and in 2013 he got the ‘WFE Award for Excellence’ from the ‘World Federation of Exchanges’.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Robert C. Merton married a television actress and model, June Rose in 1966 and separated from her in 1996.
  • He has three children from the marriage - a daughter, Samantha J. and two sons named Robert F. and Paul J.
  • He became passionate about cars when he was 11-years-old, built his own car at 15 and raced them at drag strips in Long Island and New York.

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