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Groundbreaking Economist Richard A. Easterlin is Named to the National Academy of Sciences

Richard A. Easterlin
Photo by Irene Fertik
RICHARD A. EASTERLIN, an economist and University Professor at USC, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer.

“In his distinguished career, Easterlin has become an internationally known scholar for his work studying how economics influence society, focusing on history, population changes and the relationship between wealth and happiness,” said Joseph Aoun, dean of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“Yet, here in the college, he is as well respected for his love of teaching, especially with undergraduates,” added Aoun. “He is one of our finest teachers.”

IN HIS STUDIES OF economic history and development, Easterlin has written extensively about the worldwide spread of industrialization since 1800, shedding light on the nature of this development, its causes and consequences.

His research in the field of economic demography has revealed the role of economic conditions in determining large-scale shifts in populations, including rates of birth, death, marriage and migration around the globe.

One of his key findings showed how most societies shift from high mortality and high fertility rates to lower mortality and fertility rates as economic development progresses. He has done key research on the economic impact of the post-World War II baby boom and bust.

Easterlin, who holds the prestigious title of University Professor in USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is recognized as the founder of the branch of research that looks at how personal wealth relates to an individual’s sense of contentment. More than 25 years ago, he noticed that although Americans were generally gaining wealth, surveys showed that people were no more content with their lives than they had been with less money. Originally, his work to define the relationship between financial assets and happiness was not well accepted, but today the field of economic welfare is considered a fertile and important research area.

Easterlin has written hundreds of articles and book chapters during his career. Most recently he edited the book “Happiness in Economics” (Edward Elger, 2002) and wrote “Growth Triumphant: The 21st Century in Historical Perspective” (University of Michigan, 1996).

He served on the board of directors of the National Bureau of Economic Research from 1986 to 1997 and was a Guggenheim Fellow from 1988 to 1989. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978 and has served as president of both the Population Association of America and Economic History Association.

THE NATIONAL ACADEMY of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation – signed by Abraham Lincoln – that calls on the academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.

The academy elected 72 new members at its 139th annual meeting April 30.

Groundbreaking Economist Richard A. Easterlin is Named to the National Academy of Sciences

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