Faculty & Research

Robert Topel

Robert H. Topel

Isidore Brown and Gladys J. Brown Distinguished Service Professor of Economics

Robert H. Topel conducts research on many areas of economics including labor economics, industrial organization and antitrust, business strategy, health economics, energy economics, national security economics, economic growth, and public policy. He is the Co-Director of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago.

Topel and fellow Chicago Booth faculty member Kevin Murphy won the 2007 Kenneth J. Arrow Award for the best research paper in health economics. The award is given annually by the International Health Economics Association. They were cited for their paper "The Value of Health and Longevity," published in the Journal of Political Economy. In their paper, Murphy and Topel found that cumulative gains in life expectancy after 1900 were worth more than $1.2 million to the average American in 2000, whereas post-1970 gains added about $3.2 trillion per year to national wealth, equal to about half of gross domestic product (GDP). Potential gains from future health improvements are also large, they found. For example, a one percent reduction in cancer mortality would be worth $500 billion.

Topel is the author of several books. These include The Welfare State in Transition with Richard Freeman and Birgitta Swedenborg, Labor Market Data and Measurement with John Haltiwanger and Marilyn Manser, and Measuring the Gains from Medical Research: An Economic Approach with Kevin M. Murphy. Topel has written more than 70 articles and monographs in professional journals.

Topel is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, an elected member of the Conference for Research on Income and Wealth, an elected founding member of the National Academy of Social Insurance. He has held visiting and research positions at a number of institutions, including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the World Bank, the Economics Research Center of the National Opinion Research Center, and the Rand Corporation.

From 1993 to 2003 he served as editor of the Journal of Political Economy, and from 1991 to 1993 he was a member of the editorial board of the American Economic Review, the two leading professional journals in economics. Topel was also a founding editor of the Journal of Labor Economics. In 2004, he was elected an inaugural Fellow of the Society of Labor Economists, and the following year he received the Research America Eugene Garfield Prize for Medical and Health Research.

Topel has been at the University of Chicago since 1979, with the exception of an appointment as a Professor of Economics at UCLA in 1986. In 2006, he was the Kirby Distinguished Visiting Professor of Economics at Texas A&M University. He is also a founding partner of Chicago Partners, LLC.

He received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1974 and a PhD in economics from UCLA in 1980.


2020 - 2021 Course Schedule

Number Title Quarter
33002 Accelerated Microeconomics 2021  (Spring)
33314 Big Problems 2021  (Spring)
33701 Energy Policy Practicum 2021  (Spring)


Research Activities

Industrial organization; health economics; labor markets; energy economics.

"The Value of Health and Longevity," Journal of Political Economy (2006).

"Entry, Pricing and Product Design in an Initially Monopolized Market," Journal of Political Economy (2003).

Measuring the Gains from Medical Research: An Economic Approach, University of Chicago Press (2003).

"Current Unemployment, Historically Contemplated," Brooking Papers on Economic Activity (2002).

"Labor Markets and Economic Growth," Handbook of Labor Economics (1999).

For a listing of research publications, please visit the university library listing page.

Entry, Pricing, and Product Design in an Initially Monopolized Market
Date Posted: Mar  19, 2009
We analyze entry, pricing, and product design in a model with differentiated products. Market equilibrium can be "separating," with multiple sellers and a sorting of heterogeneous consumers across goods, or "exclusionary," with one seller serving all customer types. Entry into an initially monopolized market can occur because of cost reductions or product improvements, but entry need not lower the incumbent's price, improve efficiency, or raise consumer welfare. Postentry design incentives ...

A Time-Series Model of Housing Investment in the U.S.
Date Posted: May  22, 2008
A decentralized market theory of investment based on rising supply price is formulated and explained. Asset prices embody all available information in a competitive market and serve as "sufficient statistics" for future market conditions. Construction is determined myopically by marginal cost pricing: rising supply price constrains aggregate investment. market dynamics imply that anticipated pulses in demand and interest rates lead to "bubbles" in prices, rentals and construction, because ...

New: The Assimilation of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Markets
Date Posted: Nov  14, 2007
No abstract is available for this paper.

New: The Value of Health and Longevity
Date Posted: Oct  31, 2006
We develop a framework for valuing improvements in health and apply it to past and prospective reductions in mortality in the United States. We calculate social values of (i) increased longevity over the twentieth century, (ii) progress against various diseases after 1970, and (iii) potential future progress against major diseases. Cumulative gains in life expectancy after 1900 were worth over $1.2 million to the representative American in 2000, whereas post‐ 1970 gains added about $3 ...

New: War in Iraq versus Containment
Date Posted: May  13, 2006
We consider three questions related to the choice between war in Iraq and a continuation of the pre-war containment policy. First, in terms of military resources, casualties and expenditures for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction, is war more or less costly for the United States than containment? Second, compared to war and forcible regime change, would a continuation of the containment policy have saved Iraqi lives? Third, is war likely to bring about an improvement or deterioration ...

The Value of Health and Longevity
Date Posted: Jul  06, 2005
We develop an economic framework for valuing improvements to health and life expectancy, based on individuals' willingness to pay. We then apply the framework to past and prospective reductions in mortality risks, both overall and for specific life-threatening diseases. We calculate (i) the social values of increased longevity for men and women over the 20th century; (ii) the social value of progress against various diseases after 1970; and (iii) the social value of potential future progress ...

Specific Capital, Mobility, and Wages: Wages Rise with Job Seniority
Date Posted: Jul  04, 2004
The idea that wages rise relative to alternatives as job seniority accumulates is the foundation of the theory of specific human capital, as well as other widely accepted theories of compensation. The fact that persons with longer job tenures typically earn higher wages tends to support these views, yet this evidence ignores the decisions that have brought individuals to the combination of wages, job tenure, and experience that are observed in survey data. Allowing for sources of bias ...

Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men
Date Posted: Jun  08, 2004
We study the joint processes of job mobility and wage growth among young men drawn from the Longitudinal Employee-Employer Data. Following individuals at three month intervals from their entry into the labor market, we track career patterns of job changing and the evolution of wages for up to 15 years. Following an initial period of weak attachment to both the labor force and particular employers, careers tend to stabilize in the sense of strong labor force attachment and increasing durability ...

Why Has the Natural Rate of Unemployment Increased over Time?
Date Posted: Jan  03, 2002
In 1970, when Robert Hall asked, "Why Is the Unemployment Rate So High at Full Employment?" the unemployment rate for adult men stood at 3.5 percent. That rate, which had been substantially below that level throughout the late 1960s, would climb to 4.4 percent in the recession of 1971. More recently, after the longest economic expansion of the post-war period, the unemployment rate of prime-aged men in the late 1980s settled at just below 5 percent of the labor force. What changes in the ...

Entry, Pricing and Product Design in an Initially Monopolized Market
Date Posted: Oct  18, 2001
We analyze entry, pricing and product design in a model with differentiated products. Under plausible conditions, entry into an initially monopolized market leads to higher prices for some, possibly all, consumers. Entry can induce a misallocation of goods to consumers, segment the market in a way that transfers surplus to producers and undermine aggressive pricing by the incumbent. Post entry, firms have strong incentives to modify product designs so as to raise price by strengthening market ...

Favoritism in Organizations
Date Posted: Apr  12, 1998
Objective measures of employee performance are rarely available. Instead, firms rely on subjective judgments by supervisors. Subjectivity opens the door to favoritism, where evaluators act on personal preferences toward subordinates to favor some employees over others. Firms must balance the costs of favoritism arbitrary rewards and less productive job assignments against supervisors' demands for authority over subordinates. We analyze the conditions under which favoritism is costly to ...