According to Becker, political equilibrium exists even in non-democratic societies. It arises out of a simple calculation that predatory interest groups and their taxpaying victims make: what return on my investment can I get by lobbying government? Becker’s insight is that the gains to predators are linear, but the losses to prey are exponential, thereby stiffening the resistance of victims as the aggression of predators plods on without similarly increased vigor. Think of a gang of robbers taking half the crop from peasants. They then return for the second half. The gain to the gang of the second half cut is the same as in their first extortion. Yet for peasants to lose the last half of their crops means possible starvation and the certain loss of seed corn. They can be expected to resist violently, as they did in the Hollywood movie The Magnificent Seven and in the Japanese movie on which it was based, The Seven Samurai.
Born to a Jewish family in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Becker earned a B.A. at Princeton University in 1951, and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1955 with a thesis entitled The Economics of Racial Discrimination. At Chicago, Becker was influenced by Milton Friedman, whom Becker called "by far the greatest living Teacher I have ever had". At the age of 30, he taught at Columbia University from 1957 to 1968, and then returned to the University of Chicago. In 1965 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association. Becker was a founding partner of TGG Group, a Business and philanthropy consulting company. Becker won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1967. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972, and was a member (and for a time the President) of the Mont Pelerin Society. Becker also received the National Medal of Science in 2000.
Becker's first wife was Doria Slote, from 1954 until her death in 1970. The marriage produced two daughters, Catherine Becker and Judy Becker. About ten years later, in 1980 Becker married Guity Nashat, a Historian of the Middle East whose research interests overlapped his own. Becker had two stepsons, Cyrus Claffey and Michael Claffey, from his second marriage.
Becker wrote his dissertation in 1955 at the University of Chicago, which examined the economics of discrimination. At the time, economics was strictly the study of market behavior and market economies. Becker challenged the past era of economics by bringing a new investigation of social matters to economics. Becker's contribution to discrimination was unpopular with people arguing that his theory was not economics. "More important concerns" were to be established. Society and other economists extremely disliked his work. He used the international trade model for his analysis on The Economics of Discrimination. In 1957, the publication of his thesis was the study of social issues and the market. He believed both groups can potentially be harmed. The discriminating firm can limit its own productivity and profitability.
In the 1960s he and Jacob Mincer developed the New Home Economics, of which Becker's theory of allocation of time is a centerpiece. Becker argued that such decisions are made in a marginal-cost and marginal-benefit framework and that marriage markets affect allocation into couples and individual well-being. His research examined the impact of higher real wages in increasing the value of time and therefore the cost of home production such as childrearing. As women increase investment in human capital and enter the workforce, the opportunity cost of childcare rises. Additionally, the increased rate of return to education raises the Desire to provide children with formal and costly education. Coupled together, the impact is to lower fertility rates. His theory of marriage was published in 1973 and 1974. Among its many insights are that (1) sex ratios (the ratio of men to women in marriage markets) are positively related with wives' relative access to consumption in marriages and (2) men with higher incomes are more likely to be polygamous. He published a paper on divorce in 1977, with his students Robert T. Michael and Elizabeth Landes, hypothesizing that divorces are more likely when there are unexpected changes in income. Many of these insights on fertility, marriage, and divorce were included in Becker's A Treatise on the Family, first published in 1981 by Harvard University Press.
Becker's 1964 book titled Human capital: a theoretical and empirical analysis, with special reference to education has gone through three editions since its original publication. Becker's research was fundamental in arguing for the expansion of human capital. When his research was first introduced it was considered very controversial as some considered it debasing. However, he was able to convince many that individuals make choices of investing in human capital based on rational benefits and cost that include a return on investment as well as a cultural aspect.
A political conservative, he wrote a monthly column for Business Week from 1985 to 2004, alternating with liberal Princeton Economist Alan Blinder. In 1996 Becker was a senior adviser to Republican Presidential Candidate Robert Dole. In December 2004, Becker started a joint weblog with Judge Richard Posner entitled The Becker-Posner Blog."The Becker-Posner Blog". uchicagolaw. University of Chicago Law School.
Becker received the Nobel Prize in 1992 "for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including nonmarket behavior".
In April 2013, in response to the lack of women in top positions in the United States, Becker told Wall Street Journal reporter David Wessel, "A lot of barriers [to women and blacks] have been broken down. That's all for the good. It's much less clear what we see today is the result of such artificial barriers. Going home to take care of the kids when the man doesn't: Is that a waste of a woman's time? There's no evidence that it is." This view was then criticized by Economist Charles Jones, who stated, "Productivity could be 9% to 15% higher, potentially, if all [remaining] barriers were eliminated."
In 2014 he was honored in a three-day conference organized at the University of Chicago.