Kenneth J. Arrow

August 23, 1921 – February 21, 2017

Brief Biography

Kenneth Arrow

Best known as an economist, Kenneth Arrow has also played a leading role in the field of operations research. Raised in New York City, Arrow received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1940 before studying statistics and economics at Columbia University. He received a master's degree from Columbia in 1941 before becoming a weather officer in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. During the war he published a memorandum, "On the Use of Winds in Flight Planning," which presaged some of his later interests in OR.

After the war Arrow returned to PhD studies at Columbia, but soon took up residence at the Cowles Commission for Economic Research, then at the University of Chicago. While there he also began spending summers at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California. During his first summer there in 1948, he collaborated with David Blackwell and Abraham Girshick on the elaboration of sequential analysis. The next summer, with Jacob Marschak and Ted Harris, he became engaged with seminal problems in inventory theory. He also in this period became engaged with the problem that led to his "impossibility theorem," showing that individual preference functions cannot generally be aggregated into a coherent preference function for society as a whole. The theorem formed the centerpiece of his PhD dissertation, which became his 1951 book Social Choice and Individual Values, a touchstone work in a major line of inquiry in political theory.

In 1954 Arrow and Gerard Debreu published their paper "Existence of an Equilibrium for a Competitive Economy," which proved the existence of a set of equilibrium price points in a theoretical economy as described by the 19th-century economist Léon Walras. Arrow continued to work in diverse areas, making critical contributions to the economics of information, of health care and the environment, and to the theory of collective decision making. Arrow joined Stanford University in 1949, and helped to establish Stanford's OR department in the early 1960s. In 1968 he moved to Harvard University, where he remained until 1979, when he returned to Stanford as Joan Kenney Professor of Economics and Professor of Operations Research. He took emeritus status in 1991, and for many years continued to produce new research on a broad array of topics.

Arrow is, to date, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.  Five of his students have won the Nobel Prize in Economics.  

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Kenneth Arrow

"Kenneth Arrow" biography in Production and Operations Management v. 17 no. 1, Jan-Feb 2008 pp. i-ii.  (link)

Encyclopedia Britannica. Kenneth J. Arrow. Accessed December 28, 2014. (link)

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: Kenneth J. Arrow. Accessed December 28, 2014. (link)

Jewish Virtual Library. Biography: Kenneth Arrow. Accessed December 28, 2014. (link)

Fonseca, G. L. and G. K. Rand (2005) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame: Kenneth J. Arrow. International Transactions in Operations Research 12 (2005) 473-478.   (link)

Henderson D. (2008) "Kenneth Arrow". Henderson, D., ed in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Library of Economics and Liberty) (link)

Schilling T.P. (2013) "Kenneth Arrow". Dieterle D., ed in Economic Thinkers: A Biographical Encyclopedia (Greenwood, Santa Barbara, CA)

Starr R. (2008) "Arrow, Kenneth Joseph". Durlauf, S., & Blume, L., eds in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (2nd ed.). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. (link)


City College of New York, BA 1940

Columbia University, MA 1941

Columbia University, PhD 1951 (Mathematics Genealogy Project)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Kenneth Arrow (2006) Interview by Darrell Duffie. April 6. The American Finance Association. (see YouTube video below)

Kenneth Arrow (2011) Interviews by Jane Hibbard, November 9, December 2, December 13 and December 19, 2011, Stanford University. Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program audio and transcript. (link).

Kenneth Arrow (2014) Stanford Engineering Hero Lecture, March 4, 2014 (link). 

Kenneth Arrow (2014) "Economist Kenneth Arrow discusses the origins of operations research."  Stanford University School of Engineering, published March 28, 2014 (link). 


Memoirs and Autobiographies


 Arrow, K.J. (1991) The origins of the Impossibility Theorem. In Lenstra, J.K., Rinnooy Kan, A.H.G., Schrijver, A.(eds.) History of Mathematical Programming. North Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 1–4

Arrow, K.J., (2002) The genesis of ‘‘optimal inventory policy’’. Operations Research, 50, 1–2.

Nobel Prize. Nobel Prizes and Laureates: Kenneth J. Arrow - BiographicalAccessed December 28, 2014. (link)

Wisdom Seminar with Kenneth Arrow, 14th September, 2009. (link)


Weinstein, M.   (2017) "Kenneth Arrow, Influential Economist and Nobel Laureate, Is Dead at 95."  New York Times, February 22, 2017, page A21.   (link)  

Shashkevich, A. (2017) "Nobel Prize-winner Kenneth Arrow dies."  Stanford News, February 21, 2017. (link

Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (2017) "Academic Tribute to Kenneth Arrow" October 19, 2017, Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, Stanford University.  Accessed November 16, 2017 (link)

  • Cottle, R. W. (2017) Panel participation: "Thoughts on Arrow's Broader Influence on Social Science" (link) [describes Arrow's OR related work and impact]
  • Kurz, M. (2017) Panel participation: "Arrow's Broader Intellectual Contributions" (link) [quote: "Arrow thought his most important contribution to Stanford University was his pivotal role in the creation of the Operations Research Department."]


Kenneth J. Arrow Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (link)

Awards and Honors

John Bates Clark Medal 1957

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow 1959

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1972 

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1986

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

National Medal of Science 2004

International Federation of Operational Research Societies Hall of Fame 2005

Professional Service

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1973

Selected Publications

Arrow K. J. (1949). On the Use of Winds in Flight Planning. Journal of Meteorology, 6, 150-159.

Arrow K. J. (1951). Social choice and individual values. New York: Cowles Foundation for Economics Research at Yale.

Arrow K. J., Harris T., & Marschak J. (1951). Optimal inventory policy. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society, 250-272.

Arrow K. J. & Debreu G. (1954). Existence of an equilibrium for a competitive economy. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society, 265-290.

Arrow K. J. (1958). Studies in the mathematical theory of inventory and production (No. 1). Stanford University Press.

Arrow K., Hurwicz L., & Uzawa H. (1958). Studies in linear and non-linear programming. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Arrow K. J. (1971). Insurance, risk and resource allocation. Essays in the Theory of Risk-Bearing, 134-143.

Arrow K. J., & Hurwicz L. (1972). An optimality criterion for decision-making under ignorance. Uncertainty and expectations in economics, 1-11.

Arrow K. J. (1974). Limited knowledge and economic analysis. American Economic Review, 64(1), 1-10.

Arrow K. J. (1984). The Economics of Agency (No. TR-451). Stanford University California: Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences.

Arrow K. J. (1984).Collected Papers of Kenneth J. Arrow, Volume 4. The Economics of Information. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Arrow K. J., & Raynaud, H. (1986). Social choice and multicriterion decision-making. Boston: MIT Press Books.

Additional Resources

Arrow K.J. (1972) General Economic Equilibrium: Purpose, Analytics Techniques, Collective Choice. Lecture, Nobel Memorial Lecture, December 19, Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts. (link)

Arrow K.J. (2014) Stanford Engineering Hero Lecture: Kenneth J. Arrow. Lecture, Stanford Engineering Hero Induction Ceremony, March 4, Stanford, Calif. (see embedded YouTube video below)

Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (2017) "Academic Tribute to Kenneth Arrow" October 19, 2017, Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, Stanford University.  Accessed November 16, 2017 (link)

Cottle, RW (2017) Panel: "Thoughts on Arrow's Broader Influence on Social Science" (link)