MDRC Mourns the Passing of Robert Solow, Founding MDRC Board Member

The Board of Directors and the staff of MDRC mourn the passing of Robert Solow, Nobel economist, long-time professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and founding member of the MDRC Board of Directors. Solow died at the age of 99 at his home in Lexington, Massachusetts, on December 21.

Solow won the Nobel prize in economics in 1987 for his pathbreaking work on the role of technology in economic growth. According to the Washington Post, the Royal Swedish Academy noted in his Nobel award that “Solow’s theoretical model had an enormous impact on economic analysis…Above all, [his] growth model constitutes a framework within which modern macroeconomic theory can be structured.”

Bob Solow was born in Brooklyn in 1924, entered Harvard at 16 but left to serve in World War II in a signals intelligence unit in Italy (since he spoke German and knew Morse code). After the war, he continued his studies at Harvard, earning a doctorate in economics. He joined the MIT faculty in 1949. At MIT, he mentored several generations of leading economists, including four Nobel laureates: Peter Diamond, Joseph E. Stiglitz, William D. Nordhaus, and George A. Akerlof.

In 1961, Solow received the John Bates Clark Medal, given by the American Economic Association to an American economist under age 40 who has made significant contributions to the field. He also served on the Council of Economic Advisers during the Kennedy Administration.

An advocate for the use of research evidence in policymaking, Solow was one of the founders of MDRC in 1974. As he later said in a 2013 interview, “the world and the U.S. needed an organization that took a scientific approach to social policies to help poor and disadvantaged people.”

He served on the MDRC Board of Directors for nearly five decades and chaired the Board from 2001 to 2013. He was Chairman Emeritus at his death.

“Years ago, Bob warmly welcomed me to the Board, and I was quickly impressed with the deft way he led rigorous discussions about MDRC projects and the implications for improving social policy,” said Bridget Terry Long, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Chair of the MDRC Board. “His stature as a preeminent scholar brought a seriousness to the work, but Bob combined that with a ready smile, quick wit, and generous spirit. I am honored to have worked with him.”

“Bob Solow has been the philosophical and intellectual anchor of MDRC throughout its five-decade history,” said MDRC President Virginia Knox. “His wide-ranging expertise and vision were matched by his practicality and wonderful sense of humor in our Board meetings. We will miss him greatly.”

Solow is survived by his children, John, Andrew, and Katherine; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. MDRC extends its sincere sympathies to his family and friends.