Richard B. Freeman

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For the Darwin bibliographer, see R. B. Freeman.
Richard B. Freeman
Born (1943-06-29) June 29, 1943 (age 71) [1]
Newburgh, New York [1]
Nationality USA
Alma mater Dartmouth College (B.A., 1964)
Harvard University (Ph.D., Economics, 1969)
Occupation professor, economist
Website (NBER) (Harvard)

Richard Barry Freeman (born June 29, 1943) is one of the leading labor economists in the world. The Herbert Ascherman Professor of Economics at Harvard University and Co-Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, Freeman is also Senior Research Fellow on Labour Markets at the Centre for Economic Performance, part of the London School of Economics, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK's public body funding social science. Freeman directs the Science and Engineering Workforce Project (SEWP) at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a network focused on the economics of science, technical, engineering, and IT labor which has received major long-term support from the Sloan Foundation. He is also Co-Director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Freeman is also a panel member of the Initiative for Science and Technology at the AAAS. Professor Freeman has served on 10 panels of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, including The Committee on Understanding the Engineering Education-Workforce Continuum (NAE), The Committee on Assuring a Future U.S.-based Nuclear Chemistry Expertise, The Committee on National Statistics Panel on Developing Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators for the Future, The Committee on Capitalizing on the Diversity of the Science and Engineering Workforce in Industry, the Committee on National Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists, and the joint National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine study on Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States.


He received his B.A. from Dartmouth in 1964 and his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University in 1969 for a thesis titled The Labor Market for College Manpower. He studied under Harvard Professor and Dean John T. Dunlop, who became U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Gerald Ford.


One of the most prolific social scientists of the postwar period, Freeman has written 18 books, edited 23 books and published over 300 articles on a wide range of subjects including global labor standards, the scientific workforce, the economics of crime, how the internet is transforming labor movements, and historical spurts in the growth of labor unions.

Freeman has made several significant but controversial contributions to economics and the field of industrial relations. In What Do Unions Do? (1984), he and his co-author James Medoff marshaled evidence that countered the conventional wisdom in mainstream economics when they concluded that “unionism on net probably raises social efficiency” and that “recent trends have brought the level of union density below the optimal level.”[2] Freeman’s work on the economic theory of unions has found support in several subsequent studies indicating that in many fields unionized workers have delivered higher levels of productivity than their non-union counterparts. Nevertheless, some comparative scholarship indicates that the union advantage in productivity may vary by nation. Christos Doucouliagos and Patrice Laroche in an article entitled “What do unions do to productivity?” (2003) indicate that unions significantly lift productivity in U.S. manufacturing, but these authors countered with evidence that unions have had detrimental effects on productivity in the United Kingdom.[3]

Freeman has been instrumental in developing a sub-field in the discipline of economics, the economics of science and engineering. With support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, he built a network of scholars through the Science and Engineering Workforce Project(SEWP) at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Freeman and his collaborators have explored how the tournament model of prizes and funding in the biosciences has favored older researchers and contributed to the degradation of conditions for postdocs and graduate students. He has carried out a variety of studies on the internationalization of science, as more than half of the PhDs graduating in science and engineering from U.S. universities in 2003 were foreign born, more than double the rate in 1966.[4]

In his early career, Freeman often faced harsh attacks for his book The Overeducated American (1976), which suggested that the U.S. labor market would have vast challenges employing the millions of citizens with college diplomas and advanced degrees from the enormous expansion of higher education after World War II. The high-tech boom of the later 1980s and 1990s reassured most observers that expanding higher education was the trusted route to national economic vitality and achieving the dreams for prosperity sought by millions of individuals. However, Freeman’s thesis that labor markets will not always be friendly to university-educated workers is enjoying a revival in the early twenty-first century.[5] This re-consideration has gained momentum since the high unemployment and underemployment of college graduates following the Great Recession of 2008 as well as trends in globalization that have led to the off shoring of many jobs done by lawyers, accountants, information technology workers, and other well-educated professionals.

Freeman appeared on The Colbert Report in early 2008.

Selected Lectures[edit]

  • Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University (1994)
  • Lionel Robbins Lecture at LSE (1999)
  • Luigi Einaudi Lecture at Cornell University (2002)
  • Okun Lectures at Yale University (2003)
  • Sawyer Lecture at Stanford University (2007)
  • Jefferson Memorial Lecture at the University of California Berkeley (2007-2008)
  • Kenneth M. Piper Lecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago-Kent Law School (2009)
  • V.V. Giri Memorial Lecture at the 53rd Annual Conference of the Indian Society of Labour Economics (ISLE), Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India (2011)
  • Ralph Miliband Public Lecture at the London School of Economics (2012).

Selected Books[edit]

  • The Citizen's Share: Putting Ownership Back into Democracy (with co-authors Joseph R. Blasi and Douglas L. Kruse) (2013)
  • America Works (2007)
  • Can Labor Standards Improve Under Globalization? (2003)
  • What Workers Want (1999)
  • What Do Unions Do? (with co-author J. Medoff) (1984)
  • Labor Economics (1979)
  • The Overeducated American (1976)
  • The Black Elite: The New Market for Highly Educated Black Americans (1976)
  • The Market for College Trained Manpower (1971)

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 2006 Mincer Lifetime Achievement Prize from the Society of Labor Economics
  • 2007 he was awarded the IZA Prize in Labor Economics.
  • 2011 he was appointed Frances Perkins Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.


  1. ^ a b "CV: Richard B. Freeman", Harvard University
  2. ^ Freeman, Richard B. and James Medoff (1984). What Do Unions Do, New York: Basic Books, pp. 247 and 250.
  3. ^ Doucouliagos, Christos; Laroche, Patrice (2003). "What do unions do to productivity? A meta-analysis". Industrial Relations 42 (4): 650–691. doi:10.1111/1468-232X.00310. 
  4. ^ Freeman, Richard B. and Daniel L. Goroff (2009). “Introduction.” Science and Engineering Careers in the United States: An Analysis of Markets and Employment, Chicago: NBER and University of Chicago Press, p14.
  5. ^ Uchitelle, Louis (January 13, 2005). "College Degree Still Pays, but It’s Leveling Off". New York Times. p. C1. 

External links[edit]