Robert K. Merton Scholar

The Robert K. Merton Scholar recognizes the enduring contributions of an eminent scholar to the social sciences.

Robert M. Solow, 1924-2023

The Russell Sage Foundation is saddened to report the passing of eminent economist Robert M. Solow on December 21, 2023. His research focused on theories of economic growth, particularly the impact of technology on economic growth. His influential 1956 paper, “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth,” followed by his “Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function” were seminal contributions to contemporary economic theory.

Robert Solow was Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He began teaching economics at MIT in 1949, becoming professor of economics there in 1958 and professor emeritus in 1995. He was a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation from 1999–2000 and became the foundation’s Robert K. Merton Scholar in 2001. The Robert K. Merton Scholar appointment recognizes the enduring contributions of an eminent scholar to the social sciences.

Solow received his B.A. (1947), M.A. (1949), and Ph.D. (1951) from Harvard University. He was the recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal for the best economist under age 40 (1961), the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1987), the National Medal of Science (1999), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor (2014). He is the founder of the Cournot Foundation and the Cournot Centre, and a founding trustee of Economists for Peace & Security.  He was an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He served on President Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1961–1962. Beyond the impact of his own research, Solow mentored several generations of distinguished economists, including Nobel laureates Peter Diamond, Joseph E. Stiglitz, William D. Nordhaus, and George A. Akerlof.

At RSF, Solow and Alan Krueger, edited a series of essays about the U.S. economic boom of 1995-2000 in their book The Roaring Nineties: Can Full Employment be Sustained? (2001). Solow also helped lead RSF’s major project studying low-wage work in five advanced economies in Europe and the United States. The study found that the incidence of low-wage work was far higher in the United States than in Europe, while Europe’s generous social safety net and rules providing workers with greater bargaining power led to better living conditions for low-wage workers.

RSF president Sheldon Danziger says of Solow, “Over his long career, Bob Solow was a remarkable scholar, teacher, economic advisor to presidents, and friend. As the Robert K. Merton scholar at RSF for two decades, Bob helped shape our research priorities and generously shared his insights on research and public policies with RSF presidents, staff, and visiting scholars. All of us will miss his yearly seminar where he analyzed the major economic policies of our times.”

Solow is survived by his sons John and Andrew and daughter, Katherine Solow; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. The foundation extends its deepest sympathy to Solow’s family for their loss.


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