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News & Events

Schwartz Memorial Lecture a homecoming for economics professor

Matthew O. Jackson brings insights into how social networks impact employment, wages and social mobility; will deliver paper April 25 at annual Kellogg School event

By Matt Golosinski

4/18/2007 - When Groucho Marx quipped, “I don’t care to be a member of any club that would have me,” he may have been joking. But he also seems to have observed a possible downside to insular group dynamics.

Now the famous comedian’s remark may have some scholarly support, thanks to research by Stanford University Professor Matthew O. Jackson that combines economics and sociology.

Jackson, a professor in the Kellogg School’s Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences Department from 1988 until 1997, returns to Kellogg on April 25 when he will deliver the 25th annual Nancy Schwartz Memorial Lecture. His subject: the economic implications of social interaction. In particular, Jackson will discuss how “homophily” — a tendency for people to interact more frequently with people like themselves — can result in segregated social networks even when there are opportunities to interact with others from diverse backgrounds.

This segregation, says Jackson, can have important consequences for social mobility. It also holds implications for how people form opinions and transmit information, or whether and how certain behaviors will spread, including new product adoption.

“People are more prone to adopt software, games or phone plans as more of their friends adopt the same product,” says Jackson, whose lecture is titled, “Social Structure, Segregation and Economic Behavior. “In addition to this social effect, different groups tend to have different innate propensities for adoption of a given product. The level of integration/segregation of a society then affects the overall adoption rate of a product.”

Jackson, the author of several books and more than 70 scientific papers, garnered wide praise for his research, including his seminal work on the role of social networks in job searches, wage inequality and social mobility.

Says Ehud Kalai, the James J. O’Connor Distinguished Professor of Decision and Game Sciences at Kellogg: “Matt Jackson is the true scholar we were looking for when we established this lecture series in 1983. He is both accomplished and remains active. Matt is tremendously prolific.”

Established in honor of the late Nancy Schwartz, who joined Kellogg in 1970 and was the first woman to be appointed to an endowed chair at the school, the lecture series attracts extraordinary scholars in the field of economics. Among its previous speakers have been Nobel Laureates Robert C. Merton, Daniel Kahneman, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Kenneth J. Arrow and Robert J. Aumann. In all, nine Nobel Laureates have delivered papers at the lecture, most of them having earned the honor after speaking at Kellogg.

“This shows we pick serious people doing good work who later end up winning the prize,” says Kalai.

Kellogg Professor Brian Rogers has collaborated recently with Jackson on social networks research and the two worked together at the California Institute of Technology, where Rogers earned his social sciences doctorate before arriving at Kellogg in 2006.

“Working with Matt is an enviable experience for many reasons, not the least of which is that one begins to see how his mind analyzes problems,” says Rogers. “He is perhaps the most lucid, insightful and diligent economist I have interacted with. He has a natural instinct to find important questions to work on, and demonstrates a keen ability to develop strong and elegant answers to those questions.”

For additional information on the Nancy L. Schwartz Memorial Lecture, visit kellogg.northwestern.edu/meds/schwartz/about.html