UC Berkeley News


On economics and aging
Nobel laureate Robert Fogel to deliver this year’s Hitchcock Lectures, on the past century’s improvements in health and longevity

| 04 November 2004

Hitchcock Lecturer Robert Fogel (Photo courtesy University of Chicago)
Upon receiving the 1993 Nobel Prize in economics, Robert Fogel wrote that he was a Cornell undergraduate when his academic interests “shifted from physics and chemistry to economics and history”— a shift prompted by “the widespread pessimism about the future of the economy during the second half of the 1940s.” Fogel, a distinguished professor of economics at the University of Chicago, was awarded the prize for “having renewed research in economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change.”

In a stellar academic career spanning four decades, Fogel’s pioneering research has yielded more than 20 books, including 1974’s Time on the Cross, which used quantitative data and statistical methods to argue the profitability of the slave trade in the United States — and which the Louisiana State University Press recently called “one of the most fiercely debated works of U.S. history in the 20th century.” In the 1980s, Fogel began to focus on what he called “the problem of creating and studying large life-cycle and intergenerational data sets,” supported in part by the University of Chicago’s Center for Population Economics, which he heads.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 16 and 17, Fogel will be at Berkeley to deliver two Hitchcock Lectures on “Changes in the Process of Aging in the Twentieth Century.” Tuesday’s lecture is titled “Changes in the Disparities in Chronic Diseases During the Course of the 20th Century.” On Wednesday, his topic is “Common Analytical Errors in Explanations for Improvements in Health and Longevity.”

Born in 1926 to Russian immigrants, Fogel argued in a recent lecture that assessments of economic gains over the past 130 years should include the 50-percent likelihood that a U.S. student today will reach the age of 100 “in good health,” and predicted that developing regions are in line for similar improvements. “The advances in the first half of the 20th century have been greatly underestimated,” he said, according to the Cornell Chronicle, “because economists have concentrated on wealth but ignored gains in health and longevity and improvements in the infant-mortality rate.”

The Hitchcock Lectures, made possible by an endowment established by Charles M. Hitchcock in 1885, are free and open to the public. Fogel will speak at the Chevron Auditorium at International House, 2299 Piedmont Ave. Both lectures begin at 4:10 p.m.

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