May 1, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 15

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    Levitt wins John Bates Clark Medal

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Steven Levitt, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the College, is the winner of one of the highest honors bestowed on an economist under 40, the John Bates Clark Medal.
    Steven Levitt, a leading micro-economist, has received the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economics Association for his pioneering and influential work on natural experiments in economics. The medal, bestowed every two years, recognizes the nation’s most outstanding economist under 40.

    Levitt, 35, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the College, has been a University faculty member since 1997. He studies a wide range of topics including the economic aspects of crime, corruption and education.

    “My current research focuses on cheating by teachers on standardized tests, why gambling markets are organized so differently from financial markets, and measuring and understanding cultural differences using the choice of first names given to children by different groups,” said Levitt, who is spending the 2002-2003 academic year on leave at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

    Levitt, editor of the Journal of Political Economy, is the author of several recent articles about crime, including “Legalized Abortion as an Explanation for the Decline in Crime” and “An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances” in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and “Winning Isn’t Everything: Corruption in Sumo Wrestling” in the American Economic Review.

    Levitt, who was named in 2001 to the economics section of the American Academy of Sciences, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the National Science Foundation in 2000, and the University’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1998.

    He also is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and at the American Bar Foundation.

    James Heckman, a Nobel-prize winning economist at the University and himself a recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal, said, “In a series of innovative papers, Levitt has used natural variation occurring in social systems to answer important social questions.

    He has investigated the impact of police on crime, the effect of abortions on crime and a wide range of social phenomena using the natural experiment methodology.

    “Levitt has greatly enhanced our understanding of the causes and prevention of crime and a number of other important problems using these methods,” added Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics.

    Gary Becker, a Nobel laureate and University Professor in Economics, said, “Steve’s research is characterized by great imagination in discovering interesting questions, ingenuity in finding data to test his hypotheses and considerable care in carrying through the empirical discussion.

    “He applied techniques, which he and others discovered, to analyze crimes and punishments, to empirical analyses of the effects of abortions on the amount of crime, to detecting corruption in schools and in athletic events, and to other interesting problems. He very much deserves the Clark Medal,” added Becker.

    Derek Neal, Associate Professor in Economics, said, “Steve’s work on the economics of crime as well as work on the economics of corruption have revived interest in these topics during the last 10 years. He has produced a lot of original, creative work.”

    Levitt is the 28th winner of the John Bates Clark Medal. Previous winners at Chicago are Milton Friedman (1951), Zvi Griliches (1965), Becker (1967, at Columbia University prior to joining the Chicago faculty), Heckman (1983), and Kevin Murphy (1997).