Richard A. Easterlin

Richard A. Easterlin
University Professor and Professor of Economics
The University of Southern California

Richard Easterlin was born in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, in 1926 and studied engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where he earned an ME degree with distinction in 1945.  Dick then earned ME and PhD degrees in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1949 and 1953 and was drawn to demography through his participation in Simon Kuznets and Dorothy Thomas’s landmark study of population redistribution and economic growth in the United States.  He remained at Penn for more than 30 years and held the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professorship in Economics from 1978-82. He then moved to the University of Southern California where he has remained for the rest of his career.

Easterlin is best known in the world at large as the economist who brought happiness to the dismal science and to his fellow economists and demographers for his articulation of the “Easterlin Hypothesis” to explain why the U.S experienced its post-World War II baby boom and subsequent baby bust.  While most economists assumed that fertility preferences were fixed, Easterlin argued in his classic American Economic Review paper, “The American Baby Boom in Historical Perspective”, that perceptions of relative well being could shape desired family size: baby-boom couples felt much better off than their depression-era parents, so they could afford to have more children.  Building on this insight, Easterlin went on to develop his “synthesis framework” in collaboration with Eileen Crimmins and others that took account of both supply and demand for children to explain the demographic transition process.

Easterlin’s work on happiness grew out of a 1974 paper, “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?” in which he found that over time happiness does not increase as a country’s income increases (the Easterlin paradox”).  This work has inspired an on-going debate among happiness economists who have debated the income-happiness link.  Easterlin continues to marshal data in support of his argument, and his latest contribution to the debate, Happiness, Growth, and the Life Cycle, is being published by Oxford University Press in 2010.

As his recent IUSSP Laureate Citation noted, “Easterlin’s record as a teacher has been equally distinguished.  He has inspired and continues to inspire generations o f students from both developed and developing countries to widen their thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries and to integrate concepts from other disciplines – anthropology, economics, history, sociology – to better understand human behavior.”

Easterlin served as President of PAA in 1978 and is the recipient of many awards and honors, including PAA’s Irene B. Taeuber Award, President of the American Economic History Association, membership in the U. S. National Academy of Sciences, Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, and many others.

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