- Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
- Received BA from Princeton University.
- Received MA from the University of Chicago.
- Appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.
- Received PhD from the University of Chicago.
- Appointed Assistant and Associate Professor of Economics at Columbia University.
- Appointed Member, Senior Research Associate and Research Policy Advisor, National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Publication of The Economics of Discrimination.
- Appointed Professor of Economics at Columbia University.
- Publication of Human Capital.
- Received John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association.
- Appointed University Professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Chicago.
- Appointed President of the American Economic Association.
- Publication of A Treatise on the Family.
- Received Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
- Publication of Accounting for Tastes.
- Received National Medal of Science.
- Received Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Life and Career
Gary Becker is an internationally renowned economist, Nobel Prize winner, business writer, and specialist on the sociological aspects of economic theory and analysis. He is regarded as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, and has inspired much empirical research, due to his innovative work in different areas. He has taught economics at Columbia University for nearly 50 years, written a monthly column for Business Week for 20 years, and now coproduces an economics internet blog with Richard Posner. He has previously been on the board of directors at the Manhattan Institute, a member of the Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Defense, a member of the Accenture Energy Advisory Board, and is currently on the board of directors for the New Center for Accelerating Medical Innovations, the Merc Advisory Board on Innovation, and the Hoover Energy Task Force.
Becker focused much of his research on how individuals make choices when investing in human capital based on benefits and cost, and the potential rate of return, in terms of marriage, divorce, fertility, and social welfare.
He received the Nobel Prize for his work in extending economic theory to new areas of human behavior, including sociology, demography and criminology.
His economic research also examines the impact of positive and negative habits––such as punctuality and alcoholism––on human capital, the different rates of return, and the resulting macroeconomic implications.
In his study of discrimination in the workplace, he found it was less prevalent in highly competitive industries that focused on market success, but was greater in regulated industries that were less competitive.
He also proposed that when minorities are a very small percentage of the population, the cost of discrimination mainly falls on minorities, but when their representation is higher, the cost of discrimination falls on both the minorities and the majority.
His research considered the overlap between economics and areas of sociology, such as racial discrimination, crime, family organization, and drug addiction.
He analyzed criminal behavior based on rational decision-making, and how criminals weigh the benefits of their crimes against risks of apprehension, conviction, and punishment.
This led him to propose the best way to reduce crime was by increasing either the probability or the severity of punishment.
In A Treatise on the Family, he examined social interaction and how time is allocated within the family, using economic theory to explain the reasoning behind decisions to have children and to educate them, and the decisions to marry and to divorce.
This helped him originate the “rotten kid theorem”, which states that children in a family, even if they normally act selfishly, will help one another if sufficiently incentivized.
“Fines are preferable to imprisonment and other types of punishment because they are more efficient.”