Gary Becker led the way in the application of economic theory to social issues, offering a scientific explanation for forms of behavior that had never before been subjected to economic analysis.
From the beginning, Becker refused to be constrained by arbitrary distinctions between disciplines. He employed the tools of economics to explore a range of issues related to family life -- not only the statistics of birth rates and income -- but decisions regarding marriage, divorce, parental "investment" in children, and the dynamics of self-sacrifice. His development of "rational choice" theory -- and his pioneering studies of the economics of discrimination, crime and addiction -- expanded the scope of his science into new areas.
Initially ignored by his more conventionally-minded peers, Becker's theories found an appreciative audience among younger economists who shared his vision of a discipline growing beyond the traditional limits of economic analysis. A shift in the weight of opinion over time -- aided among non-economists by his monthly column in Business Week -- saw Becker's views win wide popular and professional acceptance. In awarding him the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics, the Royal Swedish Academy praised him "for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including non-market behavior."