Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, April 4, 2001
Leading labor economist, Hoover fellow Sherwin Rosen dies

Sherwin Rosen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and president of the American Economics Association, died March 17 from lung cancer at the Bernard Mitchell Hospital in Chicago. He was 62.

Rosen, a leading economics professor at the University of Chicago, was a micro-economist with special interests in industrial organization and labor economics. His research included important theoretical and empirical work that helped economists understand how a variety of forces influence items such as the prices of homes and the salaries of celebrities.

"He was one of our best and deepest thinkers in the economics profession," said Edward Lazear, professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at Hoover, and a former colleague at the University of Chicago. "Sherwin thought about issues such as income inequality at a really deep level. It wasn't that people haven't thought about the topics before, but where others scratched the surface, Sherwin was able to crack the problem."

Rosen developed models that helped explain, for example, why houses that appear to be similar can have vastly different values, depending on their quality and location.

"Like his work on houses, he also found that a wide variety of factors influence people's incomes," Lazear said. "He made clear, for instance, that the very large salaries that star athletes are able to make are not capricious acts of society, but rather something that is a predictable outcome of economic forces."

Rosen explored the salary potentials of celebrities in a 1981 paper titled "The Economics of Superstars." In it, he discussed how talent and the scale of the market influence the amount of money individual athletes and performers make, Lazear said.

"Take, for instance, someone like opera singer Luciano Pavarotti," he said. "He might be just a little bit better than someone else who is also a talented tenor, but because the audience is so large, just that little difference means that he will be able to sell many more CDs and receive income many times that of his nearest competitor."

Rosen also looked at other differences in income that result from a diverse set of factors, according to Hoover Senior Fellow Gary Becker, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. And he explored how those differences influence the differentials between salaries earned by men and women.

"Sherwin Rosen was one of the leading economists of his generation," Becker said. "He was a crucial member of the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago and his contributions of wisdom and wit will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him."

Rosen earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Purdue University in 1960 and a master's and doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1962 and 1966, respectively.

In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Rochester and was named Kenan Professor of Economics in 1975. In 1977, he returned to Chicago as an economics professor. He served as department chairman from 1988 to 1994.

In 1986, he became editor of the Journal of Political Economy. He also served as a senior research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research from 1968 to 1993.

Rosen wrote numerous papers that became staples in labor economics. According to Lazear, his work was widely read and formed the foundation for much of modern empirical economics. He wrote, edited or co-edited four books: A Disequilibrium Model of Demand for Factors of Production (1973), Studies in Labor Markets (1981), Organizations and Institutions: Sociological and Economic Approaches to the Analysis of Social Structures (1988) and Implicit Contract Theory (1994).

Rosen is survived by his wife, Sharon, of Chicago and two daughters, Jennifer Lynn of Chicago and Adria Jill Rosen Zurita of El Cerrito, Calif.

Donations in his memory may be made to Will Power Inc., a mental health organization, 444 Frontage Road, Northfield, IL 60093.

Sherwin Rosen