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Headshot of Robert Fogel in this younger days

A Trailblazing Economic Historian

The late Robert Fogel was an economic historian at the University of Chicago who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1993 for his studies of slavery in the United States, and the role railroads played in the development of the economy. He shared the 1993 Nobel Prize with Douglass C. North.

Fogel was recognized worldwide as an economic historian and scientist. Born in New York City in 1926 to Russian Jewish immigrants, he credited his parents with fostering his love of learning and his brilliant older brother for inspiring his intellectual pursuits. Fogel attended Cornell University, where his interests shifted from physics and chemistry to history and economics.

After Cornell, Fogel earned an MA at Columbia University, where he studied with George Stigler, and a PhD at Johns Hopkins University, where he did his dissertation with Simon Kuznets. In 2013, Fogel published a book about Kuznets, Political Arithmetic: Simon Kuznets and the Empirical Tradition in Economics.

Fogel was a leading advocate of the use of quantitative methods in history. His research interests included identifying socioeconomic and biomedical factors that can predict, even at an early age, morbidity, mortality, and labor force participation later in life; forecasting pension and health-care costs; and performing strategic marketing forecasting.

His 1974 book, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, written with Stanley L. Engerman, challenged the long-held assumption, by then taken as fact, that slavery was unprofitable, inefficient, and in decline in the years leading up to the Civil War. Their research found that slave farms were as productive as free farms and that the viability of slavery—as well as the economy of the antebellum South—was increasing. His four-volume Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery continued to generate controversy.

During his career, Fogel wrote 22 books and published 90 papers in leading academic journals. Fogel taught at Chicago Booth from 1964 to 1975, and returned in 1981 after working at Harvard University. Until his death in 2013, Fogel led the Center for Population Economics at Booth.

Robert Fogel meets with a group of people while wearing a nametag

“The older I get the more important my view of the family is. I think the most important thing I have done in my life is to raise two boys.”
—Robert W. Fogel

Nobel Prize–Winning Impact

“Fogel’s use of counterfactual analysis of the course of events and his masterful treatment of quantitative techniques in combination with economic theory have had a substantial influence on the understanding of economic change,” the Nobel committee wrote in 1993.

  • Published in 1964, Railroads and American Economic Growth challenged the long-held notion that railroads played a vital role in US economic and territorial expansion during the 19th century. The book showed that railroads had little impact on GDP.
  • Published in 1974, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery challenged the view that slavery from an economic standpoint was declining or on the verge of collapsing when the American Civil War began in 1861. Fogel and Engerman concluded that the economics of slavery were instead thriving during this period. “The marketplace could not have ended slavery, because slavery was an efficient and profitable system,” Fogel said in 1993. “Slavery ended only through political intervention based on the evolving American ethic against slavery.”

 

Robert Fogel sitting at a desk teaching

Milestones

Milestones
Chicago Booth Harper Center

1948

Graduated from Cornell University with a major in history and a minor in economics

1948
Chicago Booth Harper Center

1960

Received an MA in economics from Columbia University, where he studied with George J. Stigler

1960
Chicago Booth Harper Center

1963

Received his PhD in economics from Johns Hopkins University

1963
Chicago Booth Harper Center

1974

Published Time on the Cross, his two-volume quantitative study of American slavery, cowritten with Stanley L. Engerman

1974
Chicago Booth Harper Center

1989

Published Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, which included a moral condemnation of slavery and clarified Fogel’s earlier research

1989
Chicago Booth Harper Center

1993

Won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, sharing the award with Douglass C. North

1993
Chicago Booth Harper Center

2000

Published The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, in which he argued that America has been moving cyclically toward greater equality

2000
Chicago Booth Harper Center

2006

Was recognized as the “Indispensable Person in Health Research” for 2006 by the Alliance for Aging Research, for his work on the economics of health and health care

2006

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