Gary Becker has led the way in the application of economic theory to sociological issues, an effort that has helped science understand more fully the underlying causes of types of behavior that would once have been regarded as totally unconnected with -- much less explicable by -- economic analysis.
A Princeton University graduate, he studied with Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, where he obtained his doctorate. Becker possesses a wide-ranging intellect that refuses to be constrained by arbitrary and sometimes ossified delineations between areas of scientific inquiry that have been imposed over time by mere academic convention. His teaching career, which started at Chicago and later moved to Columbia, eventually returned to his alma mater in 1970. There, Becker expanded on previous work, using economic theory as a powerful analytical tool to shed light on the entire range of family-related issues -- not merely family and birth rates (which have self-evident economic implications), but such diverse matters as decisions regarding marriage, divorce, parental "investment" in children, and the dynamics of intra-familial self-sacrifice.
Initially ignored by his more traditionally-minded peers, Becker's theories found an appreciative audience among younger economists who shared his vision of a discipline capable of outgrowing hidebound notions of what constituted the "proper" functions of economic analysis. Happily, a shift in the weight of opinion over time -- aided among non-economists by his monthly column in Business Week -- has seen Becker's views win wide popular and professional acceptance.