Easterlin, Richard A.

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Born in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, American economist, demographer, and economic historian Richard A Easterlin received a degree in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1945, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1953. He was drawn into demography through participation in a project conducted from 1953 to 1956 on population redistribution and economic growth with economist Simon Kuznets and demographer Dorothy Thomas. Easterlin's association with Kuznets was also the impetus for his interest in empirical research, and his concern with understanding real world situations, both of which are evident in all of his work.

Easterlin spent nearly 30 years as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Economics from 1978 to 1982, before moving to the University of Southern California to become University Professor in the department of economics. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He has been president of the Population Association of America (PAA) (1978) and of the Economic History Association (1979–1980).

Easterlin's 1978 presidential address to the PAA, which was titled "What Will 1984 Be Like? Socioeconomic Implications of Recent Twists in Age Structure," was the first comprehensive presentation of what came to be known as the Easterlin Hypothesis–the proposition that the relative size of a birth cohort determines the labor market outcome of its members, which in turn has repercussions on a host of other socioeconomic characteristics including fertility, creating the potential for continuing fluctuations in the relative size of birth cohorts. The hypothesis has stimulated a large amount of empirical research both in the United States and Europe, in efforts to confirm or refute it. The results appear to provide some support for his hypothesis, but suggest that institutional factors and period effects might ameliorate the impact of changing relative cohort size, reducing the likelihood of continuing regular fluctuations. In addition, some work suggests that the mediating link between relative cohort size and income might be more complex than that envisioned in the original Easterlin hypothesis. In an extension of this work, Easterlin has made significant contributions to research on preference formation, suggesting that the life cycle trend in average happiness is flat because aspirations vary with level of income.

The possibility of fertility cycles deriving from the relative economic status of successive cohorts is of major interest to demographers. Easterlin is also well known in demography for developing, in collaboration with his wife, demographer Eileen Crimmins, a comprehensive framework for analyzing social and economic aspects of fertility transition in terms of the demand for children, the "supply" of children, and the cost of fertility control. This supply/demand or synthesis framework, often referred to as the Easterlin-Crimmins model, has become for many researchers an accepted way of categorizing fertility variables.

See also: Cycles, Population; Economic-Demographic Models; Kuznets, Simon; Population Thought, Contemporary.


selected works by richard a. easterlin.

Easterlin, Richard A. 1968. Population, Labor Force, and Long Swings in Economic Growth. New York: Columbia University Press.

——. 1978."What Will 1984 Be Like? Socioeconomic Implications of Recent Twists in Age Structure." Demography 15: 397–432.

——. 1987. Birth and Fortune: The Impact of Numbers on Personal Welfare, 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

——. 1987. "Easterlin Hypothesis." In The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, ed. John Eatwell, Murray Milgate, and Peter Newman. New York: The Stockton Press.

——. 1987. "Fertility." In The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, ed. John Eatwell, Murray Milgate, and Peter Newman. New York: The Stockton Press.

——. 1996. Growth Triumphant: The Twentieth Century in Historical Perspective. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

——. 1999. "How Beneficent is the Market? A Look at the Modern History of Mortality." European Review of Economic History 3(3): 257–294.

——. 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards a Unified Theory." Economic Journal 111(473): 465–484.

Easterlin, Richard A., and Eileen M. Crimmins. 1985. The Fertility Revolution: A Supply-Demand Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

selected works about richard a. easterlin.

Blaug, Mark, ed. 1986. Who's Who in Economics: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Economists 1700–1986, 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Diane J. Macunovich

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