CHICAGO – Gary Becker, a University of Chicago professor who received the Nobel Prize in economic sciences and is credited with pioneering the approach to economics as the study of human behavior, died Saturday at age 83.
Becker’s stepson, Mike Claffey, said Becker died at Northwestern Hospital from complications after an extended illness.
“I was interested in social problems but felt that economics had the tools by which to handle these long-term interests and social questions,” Becker told The Associated Press when he became a Nobel Laureate in 1992.
Becker was cited for applying economic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interactions. The economics and sociology professor studied issues such as marriage and divorce, crime and punishment, addiction and household decisions.
Before Becker began publishing his ideas in the late 1950s, most academics considered habit, emotion and irrationality to be the primary factors in behaviors such as having children or committing crimes.
The key to his research is the theory that human behavior follows the same rational principles, whether it involves a household, a business or an organization. Though greeted initially with skepticism, his work influenced sociology, demography and criminology.
Becker’s mentor was economist Milton Friedman. The school honored them in 2011 with The Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics and Becker was named chair of the institute.
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmerman said Becker will be remembered as one of the foremost economic scholars of the 20th century. “He was intellectually fearless,” Zimmer said.
Fellow economics Nobel Laureate James J. Heckman of the University of Chicago said Becker’s work laid the framework for discussing social problems. “He kept a finger on the pulse of American public policy (and) analyzed ‘relevant’ problems in a much deeper way than is usually associated with public policy,” Heckman said. “It was not a ‘quick answer’ kind of analysis.”
Becker was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics at Princeton University and his master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He taught at Columbia University and did research at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Becker received many awards over his career, including the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2007.
His works include “The Economics of Discrimination,” written in 1957, “Human Capital,” 1964, and “A Treatise on the Family,” 1981. He was active as a scholar until shortly before he died.