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I was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, a little coal mining town in Eastern Pennsylvania, where my father owned a small business. He had first gone into business for himself after leaving Montreal and his family for the United States when he was only sixteen-years old. He moved many times in the eastern United States before settling in Pottsville in the mid-1920s. My two sisters, Wendy and Natalie, and brother, Marvin, were also born there. However, when I was four or five we moved to Brooklyn, New York, where my father became a partner in another business. 

I went to elementary school and high school in Brooklyn. I was a good student, but until age sixteen was more interested in sports than intellectual activities. At that time I had to decide between being on the handball and math teams since they met during the same time period. It was indicative of my shift in priorities that I chose math, although I was better at handball. 

My father had left school in Montreal after the 8th grade because he was eager to make money. My mother - whose family emigrated from Eastern Europe to New York City when she was six months old - also left after the 8th grade because girls were not expected to get much education. There were only a few books in our house, but my father kept up with the political and financial news, and my older sister read a lot. After my father lost most of his sight, I had the task of reading him stock quotations and other reports on financial developments. Perhaps that stimulated my interest in economics, although I was rather bored by it. 

We had many lively discussions in the house about politics and justice. I believe this does help explain why by the time I finished high school, my interest in mathematics was beginning to compete with a desire to do something useful for society. These two interests came together during my freshman year at Princeton, when I accidentally took a course in economics, and was greatly attracted by the mathematical rigor of a subject that dealt with social organization. During the following summer I read several books on economics. 

To be financially independent more quickly, I decided at the end of my first year to graduate in three years, a seldom used option at Princeton. I had to take a few extra courses during the next year, and I chose reading courses in modern algebra and differential equations for the summer afterwards. For the equations course, I was given a set of unpublished lectures that emphasized existence proofs and uniqueness of solutions to differential equations. I learned a lot about such proofs, but very little about actually solving one of these equations. Still, my heavy investment in mathematics at Princeton prepared me well for the increasing use of mathematics in economics. 

I began to lose interest in economics during my senior (third) year because it did not seem to deal with important social problems. I contemplated transferring to sociology, but found that subject too difficult. Fortunately, I decided to go to the University of Chicago for graduate work in economics. My first encounter in 1951 with Milton Friedman's course on microeconomics renewed my excitement about economics. He emphasized that economic theory was not a game played by clever academicians, but was a powerful tool to analyze the real world. His course was filled with insights both into the structure of economic theory and its application to practical and significant questions. That course and subsequent contacts with Friedman had a profound effect on the direction taken by my research. 

While Friedman was clearly the intellectual leader, Chicago had a first class group of economists who were doing innovative research. Especially important to me were Gregg Lewis's use of economic theory to analyze labor markets, T.W. Schultz's pioneering research on human capital, Aaron Director's applications of economics to anti-trust problems, and industrial organization more generally, and L.J. Savage's research on subjective probability and the foundation of statistics. 

I published two articles in 1952, based on my research at Princeton. But I realized shortly after arriving in Chicago that I had to begin to learn again what economics is all about. I published nothing else until an article written with Friedman and a book based on my Ph.D. dissertation came out in 1957. The book contains the first systematic effort to use economic theory to analyze the effects of prejudice on the earnings, employment and occupations of minorities. It started me down the path of applying economics to social issues, a path that I have continued to follow. 

The book was very favorably reviewed in a few major journals, but for several years it had no visible impact on anything. Most economists did not think racial discrimination was economics, and sociologists and psychologists generally did not believe I was contributing to their fields. However, Friedman, Lewis, Schultz, and others at Chicago were confident I had written an important book. Support by the people I respected so highly was crucial to my willingness to persevere in the face of much hostility. 

After my third year of graduate study I became an Assistant Professor at Chicago. I had a light teaching load and could concentrate mainly on research. However, I felt that I would become intellectually more independent if I left the nest and had to make it on my own. After three years in that position, I turned down a much larger salary from Chicago to take a similar appointment at Columbia combined with one at the National Bureau of Economic Research, then also located in Manhattan. I have always believed this was the correct decision, for I developed greater independence and self-confidence than seems likely if I remained at Chicago. 

For twelve years I divided my time between teaching at Columbia and doing research at the Bureau. My book on human capital was the outgrowth of my first research project for the Bureau. During this period I also wrote frequently cited articles on the allocation of time, crime and punishment, and irrational behavior. 

The Essence of Becker, edited by Ramon Febrero and Pedro S. Schwartz (Hoover Institution Press, 1995)
"This volume presents twenty-six essay that showcase the brilliant originality and range of economic thought that earned Hoover Institution senior fellow Gary S. Becker the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992.

In these essays, Becker studies persistent racial and sexual discrimination, investment in human capital, crime and punishment, marriage and divorce, the family, drug addiction, and other apparently non economic dimensions of society. Signigicantly Becker's findings not only shift huge problemes that other social sciencists once considered immovable but also stand up to empirical challenge."