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Gary S. Becker to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

October 30, 2007

Gary S. Becker, a faculty member at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and pioneer in applying the economic theory of human capital to show ways in which individual and family decisions are made on the basis of economics, will receive the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. President Bush will award the Medals of Freedom to eight recipients at a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5 at the White House.

“Gary Becker has broadened the spectrum of economics and social science through his analysis of the interaction between economics and topics such as education, demography, and family organization,” President Bush said in a White House announcement. “His work has helped improve the standard of living for people around the world.”

Becker, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Sciences, co-teaches a course for MBA students on economic analysis of major policy issues with Kevin Murphy, the George J. Stigler Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Edward Snyder, dean of Chicago GSB.

Becker also holds faculty appointments in the Economics Department and the Sociology Department. The GSB houses a University-wide research center that was named in his honor in 2006. The Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory builds on the rich tradition of Chicago Price Theory that emphasizes the fundamental role of markets and incentives in understanding and improving all aspects of modern life.

Becker is one of only a few economists to have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is also one of the few to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science, which he received in 2000. His teacher, the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Medal of Freedom was established by President Harry Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their service during World War II, and it was reinstated by President John Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service.

“I am surprised by my selection, yet also highly appreciative of receiving this award,” Becker said. “I am honored to join the distinguished persons who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the past 60 years.”

Becker recently wrote “Health as Human Capital: Synthesis and Extensions,” and co-written “The Market for Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs,” “Education and Consumption: The Effects of Education in the Household Compared to the Marketplace,” and “Evolutionary Efficiency and Mean Reversion in Happiness.”

In 2000, he published Social Economics, co-written with Kevin Murphy.

He published Accounting for Taste in 1996 and The Economics of Life in 1997, which he co-wrote with his wife, Guity Nashat-Becker.

Becker’s research has extended economic analysis to decisions made by families, discrimination against minorities and crime, and gender issues. His work looks at diverse aspects of human behavior that were previously considered to be largely irrational. Assuming that people behave rationally in attempting to make the most of their lives, he also has been able to apply economic theory to the study of relationships among individuals.

His 1957 book (his doctoral dissertation), The Economics of Discrimination, combines economic analysis with a study of prejudice against minorities.

In his 1964 book, Human Capital, he developed the idea that an investment in a person’s education and training was similar to business investments in new equipment.

In his 1981 book, A Treatise on the Family, he expanded that work to a study of the interactions within a family, including those between parents and children, husbands and wives, and among siblings. Becker concluded that women’s entry into the work force and their increased earning power have reduced demand for children, because women’s time has become more valuable.

Becker received an AB from Princeton in 1951 and his PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1955. He is a founding member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow in the American Statistical Association, the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

Becker also is a member of the American Economic Association, of which he was president in 1987, and he writes a blog with Richard Posner, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a Senior Lecturer in the Law School at the University of Chicago.