Griliches, Zvi, 1930-1999

Alternative names
Birth 1930-09-12
Death 1999-11-04

Biographical notes:

Zvi Griliches (1930-1999), was a professor of economics at Harvard University (1969-1999) and one of the world's leading authorities in the use of mathematical and statistical tools in the study of economic data and problems. Griliches joined the Harvard University faculty as a Professor of Economics in 1969. In the ensuing years he was appointed Professor of Political Economy (1969-1987), Chairman of the Department of Economics (1980-1983), Frank W. Taussig Research Professor (1983-1984), and Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics (1987-1999).

From the description of Papers of Zvi Griliches, 1915-2000, 1948-2000 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77071786

Zvi Griliches (1930-1999) was a professor of economics at Harvard University (1969-1999) and one of the world's leading authorities in the use of mathematical and statistical tools in the study of economic data and problems.

Zvi Griliches was born on September 12, 1930 in Kaunas, Lithuania to Efim Ilyich Griliches and Clara (Ziv) Griliches. He had one sister, Ellen, born on July 8, 1933 (died June 4, 1996). Zvi's father, although a chemical engineer, worked in his wife's family-owned tobacco factory.

Zvi and his family lived a comfortable Jewish middle-class life prior to World War II. However, life changed for him and his family when the Russians invaded Lithuania (1940) and nationalized his mother's family's tobacco factory. Further misfortune would befall the Griliches family in the following year, when the Germans invaded Russia. With the arrival of the Germans, Zvi and his family were ordered into the Jewish ghetto at Kaunas. As a young boy in the ghetto, Zvi read the books that he collected from abandoned homes and worked with his mother in a rubber recycling plant. At the same time, his father worked in the ghetto's Arbeitsamt (employment office), part of the ghetto's internal self-management group.

In the summer of 1944, with the Russian army advancing, the Griliches family was evacuated from the Kaunas ghetto and moved to Stutthof, near Danzig (now Gdansk ), and then to a work camp in the Dachau system of Bavaria (January 1945). Here at Stutthof the men and woman were separated and Zvi saw his parents for the last time. His mother died in March or April 1945 from typhus; his father died of hunger and diarrhea at the age of 49 in February 1945.

As the American army advanced, Griliches was evacuated to the Alps. He was liberated by American troops on May 2, 1945. Not yet 15, Griliches had lost all his immediate family except his sister, who had hidden in a Lithuanian orphanage during the war.

After the war, Zvi spent two years in Munich, joining a Zionist youth group, Hashomer Hazair. He then sailed illegally to Palestine where he was captured by the British and interned on the island of Cyprus for seven months. While on Cyprus he taught himself English. Arriving in Haifa in 1947 at the age of 17, Zvi served briefly in the Israeli Army. After his military service, Zvi worked on a kibbutz, learned Hebrew, and used correspondene courses and tutors to prepare himself for the national high school equivalency exams for entrance into Hebrew University.

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Zvi entered Hebrew University as a student of history in 1950. Obtaining entry into the United States in 1951, Zvi entered the University of California at Berkeley as an agricultural economics student and received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1953 and his Master of Science degree in 1954. Interested in applying mathematical and statistical tools to economic problems and data, he enrolled at the University of Chicago as a graduate student in 1954. He chose Chicago because the school had a strong agricultural economics concentration. At Chicago he did a large amount of work in economic theory and econometrics, earning his Master of Arts degree in 1954 and his Ph.D. in economics in 1957.

Zvi began his teaching career at the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor of Economics (1956-1959), Associate Professor of Economics (1960-1964), and Professor of Economics (1964-1969). At Chicago he built upon his graduate studies and became a leader in the application of statistical methods to the analysis of economic problems and data. Zvi's thesis, Hybrid Corn: An Exploration in the Economics of Technological Change (1957), launched a new wave of interest in the study of economic incentives and technological change. His research of hybrid corn had a wide influence and led to further studies of technological diffusion by other economists.

In 1958, Zvi began his work on the accurate measurement of inflation by studying how quality improvements in automobiles are reflected in prices. Zvi isolated how much the rise in the price of a car was attributable to inflation alone. The hedonic price indexes he developed during his automobile research became a standard and a catalyst for research by other economists.

In 1965, Zvi was recognized for his significant contributions to the advancement of economic thought when he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, given to the best economist under the age of 40.

Zvi joined the Harvard University faculty as a Professor of Economics in 1969. In the ensuing years he was appointed Professor of Political Economy (1969-1987), Chairman of the Department of Economics (1980-1983), Frank W. Taussig Research Professor (1983-1984), and Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics (1987-1999).

At Harvard University, Zvi's major fields of study included the diffusion of technological change in the economy, the role of education and its contribution to economic growth, methods for measuring the sources of economic growth, and the role of science in research and development. He was a central figure in identifying and measuring the benefits of research and development and spent his life attempting to improve the methods of productivity measurement. Moreover, Griliches played a key role in establishing Harvard University's prominence as a center of economic learning and in the training of a substantial number of well-known economists. His appointment helped reinvigorate the Harvard University economics department and helped it become the world's best by the end of the century.

Zvi Griliches married Diane (Asseo) Griliches on April 26, 1953. They had two children: Eve (1957) and Marc (1960).

Zvi Griliches died on November 4, 1999.

Zvi Griliches's work influenced several different fields of economics and effected the way government agencies operate and gather national statistics. In his later years, Zvi was routinely called upon to advise the federal government on economic policy. In 1996, he served on the Boskin Commission, studying the consumer price index in order to review any bias in the reporting of inflation. Considering econometrics as a tool, and not as an end in itself, Zvi was an acknowledged leader in the statistical analysis of economic data and he became devoted to improving the quality of economic measurement.

Among his many honors, Zvi was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1965), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1966), the National Academy of Sciences (1975), the American Agricultural Economics Association (1991) and was elected President of the American Economics Association in 1993. Zvi also received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University in 1991. After his death in 1999, a Griliches prize in empirical economics was established by Harvard University and the University of Chicago in recognition of his outstanding work in economics. In 2000, moreover, a fellowship in Empirical Economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research was established in his name.

Zvi's influence extended beyond the boundaries of Harvard Yard, and he maintained a close relationship with economists in Israel and Russia. He served as a visiting professor at Hebrew University and Tel-Aviv University. Furthermore, he helped found the New School of Economics in Moscow which was established to teach market economics and econometrics to students in the former Soviet Union. Zvi also served as an advisor on numerous panels and boards for both private and public institutions and as a consultant for many organizations including the World Bank, the Brookings Institution, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the National Science Foundation.

Zvi Griliches, self-taught and penniless, came to the United States, not only to become one of the most notable economists in his field, but to be remembered by his students, colleagues, and research associates with admiration and grateful feelings.

Chamberlain, Gary E., Elhannan Helpman, Dale W. Jorgenson, Ariel Pakes, and Andrei Shleifer.Memorial Minute: Zvi Griliches. Harvard University Gazette (February 27, 2003) : 16. Diamond, Arthur M., Jr.Zvi Griliches's Contribution to the Economics of Technology and Growth.Economics of Innovation and New Technology 13 (June 2004) : 365-397. Fraumeni, Barbara M.Zvi Griliches and His Contributions to Economic Measurement. Survey of Current Business (January 2000) : 15-17. Griliches, Zvi. Interview by Gary E. Chamberlain, 23 February 1999, tape recording and transcript. Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, MA. Griliches, Zvi.Remembering.Mosaic: A Review of Jewish Thought and Culture13 (Fall 1992) : 50-55. Griliches, Zvi. Zvi Griliches (b. 1930). Chapter 8 in Exemplary Economists, I. Northampton, MA: Edward Elger Publishing, 2000. Krueger, Alan B. and Timothy Taylor.An Interview with Zvi Griliches. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 14, no. 2 (Spring 2000) : 171-189. Nerlove, Marc. Zvi Griliches, 1930-1999: A Critical Appreciation.The Economic Journal 111 (June 2001) : 422-448.

From the guide to the Papers of Zvi Griliches, ca. 1930-2000, (Harvard University Archives)


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  • Econometrics--Study and teaching (Higher)
  • Economics--Study and teaching (Higher)
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