Becker, Gary Stanley

views updated


BECKER, GARY STANLEY (1930– ), American economist, Nobel Prize winner. Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Becker was educated at Princeton and the University of Chicago. He was the Arthur Lehman Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and, from 1985, a columnist for Business Week magazine. A free-market philosopher, Becker applied the methods of economics to aspects of human behavior previously considered the domain of sociology, anthropology, and demography. Early in his career, for example, he decided that racial and ethnic bias could be maintained only if markets were not completely competitive. The idea that discrimination takes a financial toll on the discriminator is an accepted concept among economists today, thanks to Becker. And in his 1964 book Human Capital, he raised the idea of considering education as an economic decision.

In the late 1960s he postulated that the way to reduce crime was to raise the probability of punishment or make the punishment more severe. His insights into crime helped develop a new branch of economics. He also examined the family unit, considering the household as a small business the behavior of which could be analyzed by applying economic principles.

In 1967 Becker won the John Bates Clark Award of the American Economic Association and served as president of the association in 1987. In 1992 he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science "for having extended the domain of economic theory to aspects of human behavior which had previously been dealt with – if at all – by other social science disciplines such as sociology, demography, and criminology." Other books by Becker include: The Economics of Discrimination (1957), The Allocation of Time and Goods Over the Life Cycle (1975), A Treatise on the Family (1981), The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (1992), The Essence of Becker (1995), and The Economics of Life: From Baseball to Affirmative Action to How Real World Issues Affect Our Everyday Life (1996) – a collection of Becker's popular Business Week columns.

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]