An Economist for the Ages

STANFORD – Like many others, I first met the Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker, who died earlier this month, by reading his seminal works Human Capital and The Economics of Discrimination. Several dozen outstanding economists have won the Nobel Prize in Economics since Sweden’s central bank began awarding it in 1969, but Becker is among the handful who have fundamentally transformed how economists (and social scientists more generally) think about a wide array of important economic issues.

Becker was remarkable for applying his penetrating insights, especially concerning economic incentives, to issues that had been mostly underexplored by economic analysis. This included viewing education as an investment, asking who gained and lost from discrimination, examining how families allocated their time, and explaining women’s fertility decisions.