Robert Solow

Born: August 23, 1924

Brief Biography

The oldest of three children to two working-class Jewish immigrants, Robert Merton Solow was always a successful student, winning a scholarship to study at Harvard University at sixteen. He often cites his childhood during the Great Depression as what first interested him in economics. Though Solow’s studies were interrupted with military service abroad during World War II, he completed his bachelors in 1947 and remained at Harvard for a PhD. As a graduate student he was introduced to empirical economics research by Wassily Leontief, who showed how changes in economic sectors affected one another. Solow was hired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949 as a statistics and econometrics instructor. He soon returned to “straight economics”, however, claiming he had discovered in him “an instinctive macroeconomist struggling to get out.”

In 1956, Solow developed the idea for which he is most well-known: an economic model of large scale growth that considers the development of labor, production, and productivity alongside the technological process. Capital produced by new technologies is expected to be both more valuable and productive to society, correlating macroeconomic growth with technological growth. Though Solow is best known for this model, his work on linear programming greatly contributed to operations research. In 1958 Solow published Linear Programming and Economic Analysis alongside 1970 Nobel Prize winner, Paul A. Samuelson, and long-time collaborator Robert Dorfman. This book was one of the first to wed econometrics with linear programming, bringing theoretical application to professional industry.    

At thirty-seven years old, Solow was recognized by the American Economic Association as one of the leading American economists under the age of forty who are “adjudged to have made significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” This public recognition positioned him to be an active player in US market and technological development. From 1961 to 1963, he served as a senior economist on U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisors and remained a consultant to the presidency through Lyndon Johnson’s administration. In 1987, Solow was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences “for his contributions to the theory of economic growth.” The following year, he served as president of the American Economic Association.

Many of Solow’s students have gone on to be very successful economists, including 2010 Nobel Prize winter Peter A. Diamond, and the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor for Monetary Policy Sir Charles Bean. He also had influential students in OR including INFORMS fellow Harvey M. Wagner. Solow states that his choice,  to focus primarily on his students over his own published works was not regrettable. Though he has since retired teaching and is now professor emeritus at MIT, he continues to play an active role in the relationship between technology, governance, and economic development. Solow is a leading figure in such organizations as the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and the multidisciplinary Cournot Foundation. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Robert Solow

Encyclopedia Britannica. Robert M Solow. Accessed January 1, 2015. (link)

Tufts University Now. 2011 Commencement: Robert M. Solow. Accessed January 1, 2015. (link)

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

The New York Times (1987) MAN IN THE NEWS: Robert Meton Solow; Tackling Everday Economic Problems. (October 22) (link)

Henderson D. (2008) "Robert Merton Solow". Henderson D., ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. Library of Economics and Liberty(link)


Harvard University, BA 1947

Harvard University, PhD 1951 (Mathematics Genealogy Project


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS


Oral Histories

Clement, Douglas (2002) Interview with Robert Solow.  The Region, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, September 1, 2002.  (link)

Robert Solow (2004) Interview by Marika Griehsel, September. Nobel Prize Web. (video)

Robert Solow (2007) Interview by Brian Keegan, August 15. The MIT 150 Infinite Oral History Project. (video)

Robert Solow (2009) Interview by Peter Berck. The Annual Review of Resource Economics. (see embedded YouTube video below)


Memoirs and Autobiographies


Nobel Prize. Nobel Prizes and Laureate: Robert M. Solow - Biographical. Accessed January 1, 2014. (link)

Solow R (2009) An Amateur Among Professionals. in Annual Review of Resource Economics, 1 (October):001-014. (link)


Robert M. Solow Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (link)

Awards and Honors

John Bates Clark Medal 1961

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1987

National Medal of Sciences 1999

Presidential Medal of Freedom 2014

Professional Service

American Economics Society, President 1979 

Selected Publications

Dorfman R., Samuelson P., & Solow R. (1958) Linear Programming and Economic Analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Solow R. M. (1963) Capital theory and the rate of return. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Burmeister E., Dobell A. R., Turnovsky S. J., & Solow R. M. (1970) Mathematical theories of economic growth (Vol. 968). London: Macmillan.

Baily M. N. & Solow R. M. (2001) International productivity comparisons built from the firm level. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 151-172.