I married for the first time
in 1954, and have two daughters from that marriage, Judy and Catherine.
To provide a better family atmosphere I lived in the suburbs and commuted
to Columbia and the Bureau. Eventually, I began to tire of commuting and
decided either to move into New York or to leave Columbia for another university.
I also was beginning to feel intellectually stale.
My decision to leave was hastened
by the student riots in 1968. I believed that Columbia should take a firm
hand and uphold the right to free inquiry without student intimidation.
The central administration wanted to do this, but it was incompetent, and
was opposed by many faculty who behaved no better than the students.
In 1970, I returned to Chicago, and
found the atmosphere there very stimulating. The department was still powerful,
especially after it had added George Stigler and Harry Johnson. Stigler
and I soon became close friends, and he had a very large effect on my subsequent
intellectual development. We wrote two influential papers together: a controversial
one on the stability of tastes, and an early treatment of the principle-agent
problem. Stigler also renewed my interest in the economics of politics;
I had published a short paper on this subject in 1958. In the 1980s I published
two articles that developed a theoretical model of the role of special
interest groups in the political process.
But mainly I worked on the family
after returning to Chicago. I had much earlier used economic theory to
try to understand birth rates and family size. I now began to consider
the whole range of family issues: marriage, divorce, altruism toward other
members, investments by parents in children, and long term changes in what
families do. A series of articles in the 1970s culminated in 1981 in A
Treatise on the Family . Since I continued to work on this subject, a greatly
expanded edition was published in 1991. I have tried not only to understand
the determinants of divorce, family size, and the like, but also the effects
of changes in family composition and structure on inequality and economic
growth. Most of my research on the family, and that by students and faculty
at Chicago and elsewhere, was presented at the Workshop in Applications
of Economics that Sherwin Rosen and I run.
For a long time my type of work was
either ignored or strongly disliked by most of the leading economists.
I was considered way out and perhaps not really an economist. But younger
economists were more sympathetic. They may disagree with my analysis, but
accept the kind of problems, studied as perfectly legitimate. During the
past ten years I have received much tangible evidence of this shift in
professional opinion, including the presidency of the American Economic
Association, the Seidman Award, and the first social science Award of Merit
from the National Institute of Health.
In 1983, the Sociology Department
at Chicago offered me a joint appointment. I was happy to accept because
this was an outstanding department. Its invitation to me gave a signal
to the sociology profession that the rational choice approach was a respectable
theoretical paradigm. James Coleman and I shortly thereafter began an interdisciplinary
faculty seminar on rational choice in the social sciences that has been
far more successful than we anticipated.
Until 1985, I had published only technical
books and technical articles in professional journals. At that time, I
was surprised by being asked to write a monthly column for Business Week
magazine. Since I feared that I could not write for a general audience,
I was inclined to turn the offer down. Finally, however, I agreed to do
some columns on an experimental basis. It was a wise decision, for I was
forced to learn how to write about economic and social issues without using
technical jargon, and in about 800 words per column. Doing this has enormously
improved my capacity to discuss important subjects briefly and in simple
language. The pressure of having to do a column every month also makes
me stay abreast of many subjects that interest the business and professional
readers of the magazine.
I married for the second time in 1980
to Guity Nashat - my first wife died in 1970. This gave me two stepsons,
Michael and Cyrus, to go with two daughters. Guity is the one who overcame
my reluctance to do the Business Week columns. She is an historian of the
Middle East with professional interests that overlap my own: on the role
of women in economic and social life, and the causes of economic growth.
The personal and professional compatibility she provides has made my life
so much better.
From Les Prix Nobel 1992.