Remembered: Jacob Mincer, Father of Modern Labor Economics
Columbia News, September 1, 2006
Jacob Mincer, the Joseph L. Buttenwiser Professor of Economics and Social Relations, Emeritus, at Columbia University, died at his Manhattan home on Sunday, August 21. Mincer was 84. The cause was due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to his wife, Dr. Flora Kaplan Mincer.
During World War II, Mincer survived prison camps in Czechoslovakia and Germany as a teenager, to rise to become one of the world’s greatest pioneering economists of the 20th century.
Although Mincer was never awarded a Nobel Prize, he was nominated numerous times by admiring colleagues. He was considered by many to be a father of modern labor economics.
As a leading member of a group of economists at Columbia and the University of Chicago, known as the Columbia-Chicago School of Economics, Mincer and Nobel Laureate Gary Becker helped to develop the empirical foundations of human capital theory, consequently revolutionizing the field of labor economics. Mincer’s ground-breaking work: “Schooling, Experience and Earnings,” published in 1974, continues to have profound impact on the field of labor economics.
In 1991, Mincer received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Chicago which recognized his seminal work in the economic analysis of earnings and inequality, the labor force decisions of women and of job mobility. The citation for the degree also recognized Mincer’s work in this area that has helped guide a generation of economists who study these important social questions.
In recognition of his lifetime achievements in economics, Mincer was awarded the first IZA (Institute for the Study of Labor, based in Bonn,Germany) Prize in Labor Economics. The $50,000 prize was presented to Mincer by more than 100 of his former students at a conference at Columbia University in 2002. In 2004 Mincer received a Career Achievement Award from the University of Chicago’s Society of Labor Economists; the annual award has subsequently become known as the Mincer Award.
Mincer joined Columbia’s faculty in 1959 following teaching stints at City College of New York, Hebrew University, Stockholm School of Economics and the University of Chicago. He was a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. from 1960 through his death. Mincer received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1957 and retired from the university in 1991.
During his academic career, Mincer authored four books and hundreds of journal articles, papers and essays. Mincer’s accomplishments and preeminent stature in the field of labor economics leaves a legacy to the world and reaffirms the excellence of Columbia University.