Nov. 16, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 5

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    Becker will be honored with National Medal of Science on Dec. 1

    William Harms
    News Office

    Gary Becker, Professor in Economics, will receive a National Medal of Science from President Clinton on Friday, Dec. 1, in Washington, D.C.
    Gary Becker, Professor in Economics and a pioneer in applying the economic theory of human capital to show ways in which individual and family decisions are made on the basis of economics, is one of 12 people to receive the 2000 National Medal of Science.

    Becker, who received his Ph.D. from the University, is one of four Chicago graduates to be among the 12 winners of the nation’s highest science honor. The other winners with Chicago degrees are Jeremiah Ostriker (Ph.D., ’64), provost and the Charles A. Young professor of astronomy, Princeton University; Gilbert White (S.B., ’32, S.M., ’34, Ph.D., ’42), the Gustavson distinguished professor emeritus of geography, University of Colorado; and John Griggs Thompson (Ph.D., ’59), graduate research professor of mathematics, University of Florida.

    “I am honored and surprised that I was selected to join the distinguished company from this university and elsewhere,” Becker said. “I am greatly indebted to my teachers, colleagues and students for their investment in my human capital. I must also mention the continual support, stimulation and encouragement from my wife of many years, Guity Becker.”

    The awards will be presented Friday, Dec. 1, in Washington, D.C.

    Becker is the third University economist and the 14th University faculty member to receive the medal.

    The National Medal of Science is the nation’s highest scientific honor. Established by Congress in 1959, it was intended to be bestowed annually by the President on a select group of individuals for their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical or engineering sciences. In 1980, Congress expanded this definition to include the social and behavioral sciences. The National Science Foundation administers the program. Including the 12 recipients this year, 386 people have been awarded the National Medal of Science.

    Becker, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992, has continued to do important new work on how economic decisions influence people’s lives. He published Accounting for Taste in 1996 and The Economics of Life in 1997, which he co-wrote with his wife. Becker’s forthcoming book, Social Economics, was co-written by Kevin Murphy, the George Pratt Schultz Professor in the Graduate School of Business.

    Becker’s research has extended economic analysis to decisions made by families, discrimination against minorities and crime, and to gender issues. His work looks at diverse aspects of human behavior that were previously considered to be largely irrational.

    Assuming people behave rationally in attempting to make the most of their lives, he also has been able to apply economic theory to the study of relationships among individuals.

    In his 1964 book Human Capital, he developed the idea that an investment in a person’s education and training was similar to business investments in new equipment.

    In his 1981 book, A Treatise on the Family, he expanded that work to a study of the interactions within a family, including those between parents and children, husbands and wives, and among siblings.

    Becker concluded that women’s entry into the work force and their increased earning power have reduced demand for children, because women’s time has become more valuable.

    Becker received an A.B. from Princeton University in 1951 and his Ph.D. in Economics from Chicago in 1955. He was an Assistant Professor in Economics at Chicago from 1954 to 1957 and taught at Columbia University from 1957 to 1969, when he returned to Chicago as a Visiting Professor. He was named Professor in Economics in 1970. He also became a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution in 1990 and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees.

    He is a founding member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow in the American Statistical Association, the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

    Becker also is a member of the American Economic Association, of which he was president in 1987, and he writes a regular column for Business Week magazine.