Faculty & Research

Gary S. Becker

University Professor of Economics and of Sociology

Phone :
(773) 702-8168
Address :
5807 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637

Gary S. Becker won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences "for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including non-market behavior." He also is the Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Research Associate of the Economics Research Center at the National Opinion Research Center, and an associate member of the Institute of Fiscal and Monetary Policy for the Ministry of Finance in Japan.

Becker has pioneered study in the fields of human capital, economics of the family, and economic analysis of crime, discrimination, addiction, and population. He is the author of more than 12 books and more than 50 articles.

Becker completed his undergraduate work summa cum laude in mathematics at Princeton University, where he "accidentally took a course in economics" as a freshman and was "greatly attracted by the mathematical rigor of a subject that dealt with social organization." He earned a master's degree and a PhD from the University of Chicago, where he was inspired by Milton Friedman. His doctorate was awarded in 1955. Becker also holds honorary degrees from several institutions, including Princeton University, Harvard University, Columbia University, and Hitoshibashi University in Japan. He was an assistant professor in economics at the University of Chicago from 1954 to 1957, then taught at Columbia University from 1957 to 1969, before he returned to Chicago.

Becker 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. He also is a member of the American Economic Association, of which he was president in 1987. A long-time faculty member of the University of Chicago, Becker joined the Chicago Booth in 2002.

In 1967, Becker was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, which is given once every two years to the most outstanding American economist under the age of 40; the Seidman Award; and the first social science Award of Merit from the National Institute of Health. He also was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2000 for his work in social policy.

Becker's current research focuses on habits and addictions, formation of preferences, human capital, and population growth. He is a featured columnist for BusinessWeek and coauthor of the Becker-Posner Blog with Richard Posner, senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. The blog can be viewed at http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/.

 

Human Capital (1964).

A Treatise on the Family (1981).

The Economics of Discrimination (1957).

The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (1976).

With Kevin Murphy, Social Economics (2000).

For a listing of research publications please visit ’s university library listing page.

REVISION: 'Becker on Ewald on Foucault on Becker': American Neoliberalism and Michel Foucault's 1979 'Birth of Biopolitics' Lectures
Date Posted: Oct  01, 2013
In a series of lectures delivered in 1979 at the Collège de France under the title The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault conducted a close reading of Gary Becker’s writings on human capital and on crime and punishment, within the context of an elaboration and critique of American neoliberalism. Foucault was assisted at the time, at the Collège de France, by François Ewald. Since then, there has been ongoing debate over Foucault’s views about neoliberalism. In this historic meeting at the University of Chicago between Professors Becker and Ewald, Professor Ewald presents a framework to understand Foucault’s writings on Becker; Professor Bernard Harcourt offers a different reading of Foucault’s views on neoliberalism; and Professor Becker responds to Foucault’s lectures and to possible critical readings of his work on human capital. Apology or critique — that is the motivating question in this rich encounter between contemporary French philosophy and American economic theory.

REVISION: Becker and Foucault on Crime and Punishment
Date Posted: Oct  01, 2013
In his 1979 lectures at the Collège de France, The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault discussed and analyzed Gary Becker’s economic theory of crime and punishment, originally published in The Journal of Political Economy in 1968 under the title “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach.” In this historic, second encounter at the University of Chicago, Gary Becker responds to Foucault’s lectures and possible critical readings of his writings on crime and punishment, in conversation with Professors François Ewald (who was, at the time in 1979, Foucault’s assistant at the Collège and one of Foucault’s closest interlocutors) and Bernard Harcourt (a punishment theorist and an editor of Foucault’s lectures). The rich encounter explores potential overlaps, complementarities, and conflicts between Foucault’s theoretical work on punishment (both in Birth of Biopolitics and Discipline and Punish) and Becker’s economic theory of crime, builds on the previous confrontation over American ...

New: The Challenge of Immigration: A Radical Solution
Date Posted: May  21, 2011
How can market-based solutions help solve the challenges of immigration? Nobel Prize winner Prof. Gary Becker, in this IEA Occasional Paper, proposes a radical policy which, if implemented by the coalition government, could raise over £600 million a year. Prof. Becker proposes that visas to work in the UK should be sold off. The coalition’s immigration cap scheme could be amended using this proposal to ensure that the most suitable immigrants are allowed in. The people willing to pay the most t

New: Net Neutrality and Consumer Welfare
Date Posted: Oct  24, 2010
The Federal Communications Commission’s proposed net neutrality rules would, among other things, prohibit broadband access providers from prioritizing traffic, charging differential prices based on the priority status, imposing congestion-related charges, and adopting business models that offer exclusive content or that establish exclusive relationships with particular content providers. The proposed regulations are motivated in part by the concern that the broadband access providers will adopt

New: Explaining the Worldwide Boom in Higher Education of Women
Date Posted: Sep  23, 2010
The last forty years have witnessed a remarkable boom in higher education around the world. Importantly, the boom in higher education has been concentrated among women, such that today in most higher-income countries, and many lower-income countries, more women than men attend and complete tertiary education. We present a model that explains the increase in higher education, particularly among women, in terms of a market for college graduates in which the supply of college graduates is function

New: Terminal Care and the Value of Life Near its End
Date Posted: Feb  01, 2010
Medical care at the end of life, estimated to contribute up to a quarter of US health care spending, often encounters skepticism from payers and policy makers who question its high cost and often minimal health benefits. It seems generally agreed upon that medical resources are being wasted on excessive care for end-of-life treatments that often only prolong minimally an already frail life. However, though many observers have claimed that such spending is often irrational and wasteful, little ex

A Comment on the Conference on Cost-Benefit Analysis
Date Posted: Mar  19, 2009
This comment discusses the importance of politics in understanding cost-benefit analysis. Economists frequently rely on a social planner model, under which cost-benefit analysis has a straightforward role. However, a better model for understanding actual political choices of policies and programs is the interest group competition model. In this model, cost-benefit analysis can be used to explain why some regulations and other policies are adopted and others are not. Further, cost-benefit analy

An Empirical Analysis of Cigarette Addiction
Date Posted: Apr  03, 2008
We use a framework suggested by a model of rational addiction to analyze empirically the demand for cigarettes. The data consist of per capita cigarettes sales (in packs) annually by state for the period 1955 through 1985. The empirical results provide support for the implications of a rational addiction model that cross price effects are negative (consumption in different periods are complements), that long-run price responses exceed short-run responses, and that permanent price effects exceed

New: The Value of Life Near its End and Terminal Care
Date Posted: Dec  04, 2007
Medical care at the end of life, which is often is estimated to contribute up to a quarter of US health care spending, often encounters skepticism from payers and policy makers who question its high cost and often minimal health benefits. It seems generally agreed upon that medical resources are being wasted on excessive care for end-of-life treatments that often only prolong minimally an already frail life. However, though many observers have claimed that such spending is often irrational and

REVISION: The Market for Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs
Date Posted: Sep  16, 2007
This paper considers the costs of reducing consumption of goods by making their production illegal and punishing illegal producers. We use illegal drugs as a prominent example. We show that the more inelastic either demand for or supply of goods is, the greater the increase in social cost from further reducing its production by greater enforcement efforts. So, optimal public expenditures on the apprehension and conviction of illegal suppliers depend not only on the difference between the social

New: Evolutionary Efficiency and Happiness
Date Posted: Apr  23, 2007
We model happiness as a measurement tool used to rank alternative actions. Evolution favors a happiness function that measures the individual's success in relative terms. The optimal function is based on a time-varying reference point - or performance benchmark - that is updated over time in a statistically optimal way in order to match the individual's potential. Habits and peer comparisons arise as special cases of such an updating process. This updating also results in a volatile level of hap

New: Market Insurance, Self-Insurance, and Self-Protection
Date Posted: Feb  08, 2007
The article develops a theory of demand for insurance that emphasizes the interaction between market insurance, self-insurance, and self- rotection. The effects of changes in prices, income, and other variables on the demand for these alternative forms of insurance are analyzed using the state preference approach to behavior under uncertainty. Market insurance and self-insurance are shown to be substitutes, but market insurance and self-protection can be complements. The analysis challenges the

A Theory of Social Interactions
Date Posted: Jan  05, 2007
This essay incorporates a general treatment of social interactions into the modern theory of consumer demand. Section 1 introduces the topic and explores some of the existing perspectives on social interactions and their importance in the basic structure of wants. In Section 2, various characteristics of different persons are assumed to affect the utility functions of some persons, and the behavioral implications are systematically explored. Section 3 develops further implications and applicati

The Equilibrium Distribution of Income and the Market for Status
Date Posted: Mar  29, 2005
This paper explores the implications for risk-taking behavior and the equilibrium distribution of income of assuming that the desire for status positions is a powerful motive and that it raises the marginal utility of consumption. In contrast to previous analyses, we consider the case in which status positions are sold in a hedonic market. We show that such a complete hedonic market in status positions can be perfectly replicated by a simpler arrangement with a "status good" and a social norm th

The Economic Theory of Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs
Date Posted: Dec  20, 2004
This paper concentrates on both the positive and normative effects of punishments that enforce laws to make production and consumption of particular goods illegal, with illegal drugs as the main example. Optimal public expenditures on apprehension and conviction of illegal suppliers obviously depend on the extent of the difference between the social and private value of consumption of illegal goods, but they also depend crucially on the elasticity of demand for these goods. In particular, when d

Human Capital, Fertility, and Economic Growth
Date Posted: May  26, 2004
No abstract is available for this paper.

Economics of Marital Instability
Date Posted: Apr  12, 2004
This paper focuses on the causes of divorce. Section I developsa theoretical analysis of marital dissolution incorporating uncertaintyabout the outcomes of marital decisions into a framework of utilitymaximization and the marriage market. Section II explores the implica-tions of the theoretical analysis with cross-sectional data,primarilythe 1967 Survey of Economic Opportunity and the Terman sample. Therelevance of both the theoretical and empirical analyses in explainingthe recent acceleration

The Quantity and Quality of Life and the Evolution of World Inequality
Date Posted: Aug  28, 2003
Lack of income convergence for the world as a whole has led to concerns about the impact of globalization of markets on world inequality. GDP per capita is usually used to proxy for the quality of life of individuals living in different countries. However, well-being is also affected by quantity of life, as represented by longevity. This paper incorporates longevity into an overall assessment of the evolution of cross-country inequality. The absence of income convergence noticed in the growth li

Child Endowments, and the Quantity and Quality of Children
Date Posted: Jan  13, 2002
This paper brings together and integrates social interactions and the special relation between quantity and quality. We are able to show that the observed quality income elasticity would be relatively high and the quantity elasticity relatively low and sometimes negative, even if the true "unobserved income elasticities for quantity and quality were equal and of average value. Moreover, the observed quality elasticity would fall, and the observed quantity elasticity would rise, as parental inco

A Theory of the Production and Allocation of Effort
Date Posted: Dec  28, 2001
The purpose of this paper is to analyze systematically the production of effort and its allocation among different market and non-market sectors. I believe that this analysis can explain much of the variation in earnings that is not explained by human capital. The first section introduces the material. The next section develops the basic theoretical analysis of the production and allocation of effort by a free person. Section III applies this analysis to the value placed on time a1 located to t

A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility
Date Posted: Dec  27, 2001
When parents are altruistic toward children, the choices of fertility and consumption come from the maximization of a dynastic utility function. The maximization conditions imply first, an arbitrage condition for consumption across generations, and second, the equation of the benefit from an extra child to the net cost of rearing that child. These conditions imply that fertility in open economies depends positively on the world interest rate, on the degree of altruism, and on the growth of child

Mortality Contingent Claims, Health Care, and Social Insurance
Date Posted: May  12, 2000
This paper analyzes the savings and health care impacts of 'mortality contingent claims,' defined here as income measures, such as annuities and life-insurance, under which earned income is contingent on the length of one's life. The postwar increase in mandatory annuity and life-insurance programs, as well as the rapid increase in life-expectancy, motivates a better understanding of the effects that mortality contingent claims have on resources devoted to life-extension. We analyze the incent

Deadweight Costs and the Size of Government
Date Posted: May  05, 2000
We provide a model for analyzing effects of the tax system and spending programs on the determination of government spending and taxpayer welfare and show that tax system or spending program which is suboptimal from a Ramsey point of view can improve taxpayer welfare because the system creates additional political pressure for suppressing the growth of government. Relevant examples include the use of inflation taxes capital taxes, excise taxes, deficit financing, and income taxes with many We a