Bust of Wilhelm Lexis, 1912
|Born||July 17, 1837
|Died||October 25, 1914
|Doctoral advisor||August Beer|
|Doctoral students||Ladislaus Bortkiewicz|
|Known for||Founder of the field of insurance|
Wilhelm Lexis (July 17, 1837, Eschweiler – October 25, 1914, Göttingen), full name Wilhelm Hector Richard Leberecht Lexis, was an eminent German statistician, economist, and social scientist and a founder of the interdisciplinary study of insurance.
Born in Eschweiler as the son of a physician, Lexis obtained a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Heidelberg, where he was an assistant of the famous Chemist Robert Bunsen. He then worked as a Gymnasium teacher, librarian, and journalist, until in 1872 he became, until 1874, extraordinary professor at the newly-refounded German-language Imperial University of Straßburg. In 1874-1876, he taught at the University of Tartu, then at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, since 1884 at the University of Breslau, and from 1887 at the University of Göttingen, which was his final appointment. He died in Göttingen.
Although the author of an Allgemeine Volkswirtschaftslehre (general economics book) (1910) and certainly a distinguished economist, even a pioneer of Law and Economics thinking and of the study of consumption and crises, Lexis is today primarily known as a statistician, partially due to his creation of the Lexis ratio. His reputation as a demographer is underlined by the ubiquity of Lexis Diagrams, which are named for him, although primary credit for their invention belongs to Gustav Zeuner and O. Brasche (a notable example of Stigler's law of eponymy). He is also one of the founding fathers of the interdisciplinary, professional study of insurance. A Kathedersozialist, he was closely affiliated with academic policy makers in Prussia and one of Friedrich Althoff’s experts and the editor of important works on German higher education, most famously the six-volume Das Unterrichtswesen im Deutschen Reich, compiled for the St. Louis World's Fair of that year and still the key reference work for that time. Lexis' theoretical works on social science epistemology are largely forgotten but very relevant today.
- Einleitung in die Theorie der Bevölkerungsstatistik. Karl Trübner, Straßburg 1875 (Göttinger Digitalisierungszentrum)
- Zur Theorie der Massenerscheinungen in der menschlichen Gesellschaft. Fr. Wagner'sche Buchhandlung, Freiburg i. B. 1877 (University of Tartu)
- Abhandlungen zur Theorie der Bevölkerungs- und Moralstatistik. Gustav Fischer, Jena 1903 (University of Tartu)
- Allgemeine Volkswirtschaftslehre. B. G. Teubner, Berlin, Leipzig 1910 (University of Tartu)
- Vanderschrick, Christophe. "The Lexis diagram, a misnomer". Demographic Research 4 (3).