Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago whom colleagues called one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, died over the weekend. He was 83.
“Economics will miss him. The university will miss him,” said Kevin Murphy, a professor of economics at the Chicago Booth School of Business. “He will be long remembered for his influence on the profession.”
Former colleagues say Mr. Becker expanded the scope of economics to address an array of social issues, including family relations and discrimination, and inspired others to study how economics affects everyday life.
In 1992, Becker won the Nobel Memorial 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.”Mr. Becker died late Saturday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after complications from surgery, said university spokesman Jeremy Manier.
Mr. Becker’s stepson Mike Claffey said his stepfather had survived prostate cancer but had not been feeling well in recent months due to a stomach ulcer, which was diagnosed just a week ago.
“He was still enjoying life and incredibly productive in his work,” Claffey said. “In the last few weeks, he took a turn for the worse.”
Born in Pottsville, Pa., Mr. Becker grew up in Brooklyn and studied mathematics at Princeton University. He earned his master's degree and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. In 1954, Mr. Becker began teaching at the university as an assistant professor in economics.
After spending more than a decade at Columbia University, Mr. Becker in 1970 returned to teach in Chicago, where he would stay for the rest of his career.
Colleagues said Mr. Becker was a pioneer in expanding the scope of economic analysis to crime, discrimination, addiction and more.
“He just pushed economics in so many different directions,” said Murphy, who collaborated with Mr. Becker in research on human capital, education, addiction and the economics of the family. “He believed that economics was helpful to understanding and improving people’s lives and that’s how he did his research and that’s how he taught.”
Murphy said Mr. Becker rarely ever talked about anything besides economics and his family.
“His commitment to his family and his commitment to economics were the two biggest things in his life and he liked it that way,” Murphy said. “He really loved economics and he loved the University of Chicago and he loved even more the combination of those two things.”
Although his focus was on the graduate economics program, Becker always made himself available to undergraduates and regularly opened up his storied human capital graduate class to undergrads, said Grace Tsiang, a senior lecturer and co-director of the U. of C. economics undergraduate program.
He also even advised honors students on their bachelor’s degree papers, Tsiang said
“He was a giant in Chicago economics and taught many of the people who (now) teach the undergrads,” said Tsiang, adding that Mr. Becker was her own thesis adviser when she was a graduate student. “His ideas very much shape what I teach my undergraduates.”
Mr. Becker is survived by his wife, Guity; two daughters, Catherine Becker and Judy Becker; a sister, Natalie Becker; two stepsons, Cyrus Claffey and Mike Claffey; two step-grandchildren; and two grandchildren.
The university will announce details about a memorial service to honor Becker’s life and work at a later date.