Gary S. Becker (1930–2014) pioneered study in the fields of human capital, economics of the family, and economic analysis of crime, addiction, discrimination, and more. He 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.”
In 2011, this institute was named to honor the contributions of Becker and his mentor, Milton Friedman, who shared a belief in the power of economics as a tool to understand the world and address serious problems.
Becker, AM '53, PhD '55, discovered economics when he “accidentally” took a course as an undergraduate at Princeton University. As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Milton Friedman’s microeconomics course introduced him to economic theory as a powerful tool to analyze the real world. He immediately began applying that tool creatively, writing his dissertation on the economics of racial discrimination—a controversial topic at the time.
He joined the UChicago economics faculty in 1954. From 1957 to 1969, he taught at Columbia University and was a senior research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, returning to the University of Chicago faculty in 1970. At the time of his death in 2014, he was University Professor in the departments of Economics and Sociology, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and the Law School.
He also was Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a research associate of the Economics Research Center at the National Opinion Research Center.
Becker was a force that shifted the focus of entire disciplines. His work opened economics to inquiry into family size, marriage and divorce, crime, addiction, and other topics previously in the domain of sociology or psychology. He is widely recognized for his key role in developing the field of human capital. He injected the paradigm of rational choice to sociology, and applied economic modeling to key questions in political science. He introduced countless students to price theory, which looks at aspects of modern life through the lens of markets and incentives. The Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory was named in his honor in 2006.
Among his numerous achievements and honors, a few stand out. He received the John Bates Clark Medal, the Seidman Award, and the first social science Award of Merit from the National Institutes of Health. He also was awarded the National Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.