National Bureau of Economic Research

Last updated
National Bureau of Economic Research
NBER Logo.svg
Founded1920;101 years ago (1920)
Founder Wesley Mitchell
Type Nonprofit organization
Leader James M. Poterba
Revenue (2015)
$33,263,297 [1]
Expenses (2015)$33,988,867 [1]

Coordinates: 42°22′11″N71°06′46″W / 42.3697°N 71.1127°W / 42.3697; -71.1127


The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is an American private nonprofit research organization "committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community." [2] The NBER is well known for providing start and end dates for recessions in the United States.

Many of the Chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers have been NBER Research Associates, including the former NBER President and Harvard Professor, Martin Feldstein.

The NBER's current President and CEO is Professor James M. Poterba of MIT.


The NBER was founded in 1920. Its first staff economist, director of research, and one of its founders was American economist Wesley Clair Mitchell. He was succeeded by Malcolm C. Rorty in 1922.

The Russian American economist Simon Kuznets, and student of Mitchell, was working at the NBER when the U.S. government recruited him to oversee the production of the first official estimates of national income, published in 1934.

In the early 1940s, Kuznets' work on national income became the basis of official measurements of GNP and other related indices of economic activity. [3] The NBER is currently located in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a branch office in New York City.


The NBER's research activities are mostly identified by 20 research programs on different subjects and 14 working groups. The research programs are: Aging, Asset Pricing, Behavioral/Macro, Capital Markets and the Economy, Children, Corporate Finance, Development of the American Economy, Economics of Education, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Energy and the Environment, Health Care, Health Economics, Industrial Organization, International Finance and Macroeconomics, International Trade and Investment, Labor Studies, Law and Economics, Monetary Economics, Political Economy, Productivity, and Public Economics. [4] From this research come the NBER's Working Papers.


The NBER convenes over 120 meetings each year at which researchers share and discuss their latest findings and launch new projects. The Summer Institute, a collection of nearly 50 smaller meetings, is held annually in July. [5]

Notable members

Nobel Laureates

Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) Chairmen

(In Reverse Chronological Order)

Other notable members

Policy impact

In one study, the NBER was ranked as the second most influential domestic economic policy think tank (the first was the Brookings Institution). [6]

Recession markers

The NBER is well known for its start and end dates of US recessions. The NBER uses a broader definition of a recession than commonly appears in the media. A definition of a recession commonly used in the media is two consecutive quarters of a shrinking gross domestic product (GDP). In contrast, the NBER defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales." [7] Business cycle dates are determined by the NBER dating committee under contract with the Department of Commerce. Typically, these dates correspond to peaks and troughs in real GDP, although not always so. [8]

The NBER prefers this method for a variety of reasons. First, they feel by measuring a wide range of economic factors, rather than just GDP, a more accurate assessment of the health of an economy can be gained. For instance, the NBER considers not only the product-side estimates like GDP, but also income-side estimates such as the gross domestic income (GDI). Second, since the NBER wishes to measure the duration of economic expansion and recession at a fine grain, they place emphasis on monthly—rather than quarterly—economic indicators. Finally, by using a looser definition, they can take into account the depth of decline in economic activity. For example, the NBER may declare not a recession simply because of two quarters of very slight negative growth, but rather an economic stagnation. [9] However, they do not precisely define what is meant by "a significant decline", but rather determine if one has existed on a case by case basis after examining their catalogued factors which have no defined grade scale or weighting factors. The subjectivity of the determination has led to criticism and accusations committee members can "play politics" in their determinations. [10]

Though not listed by the NBER, another factor in favor of this alternate definition is that a long term economic contraction may not always have two consecutive quarters of negative growth, as was the case in the recession following the bursting of the dot-com bubble. [9] For example, a repeated sequence of quarters with significant negative growth followed by a quarter of no or slight positive growth would not meet the traditional definition of a recession, even though the nation would be undergoing continuous economic decline.

Announcement of end of 2007–2009 recession

In September 2010, after a conference call with its Business Cycle Dating Committee, the NBER declared that the Great Recession in the United States had officially ended in 2009 and lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. [11] [12] In response, a number of newspapers wrote that the majority of Americans did not believe the recession was over, mainly because they were still struggling and because the country still faced high unemployment. [13] [14] [15] However, the NBER release had noted that "In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month. A recession is a period of falling economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. The trough marks the end of the declining phase and the start of the rising phase of the business cycle." [16]

Selected papers

Can Universal Screening Increase the Representation of Low Income and Minority Students in Gifted Education?

[17] The NBER or the National Bureau of Economic Research is a nonprofit organization, that focuses on examining in great detail economic growth of occurring problems in the U.S. In the article “Can Universal Screening Increase the Representation of Low Income and Minority Students in Gifted Education” by the National Bureau of Economic research, authors David Card and Laura Giuliano believe that low income and minority families are under represented in schools' gifted education courses. The authors address one occurring problem with theses tests: whether or not these minority students are overlooked by the system. Teacher and parent referrals would be acknowledged by comprehensive screening programs being introduced into school districts today. The screening tests that school districts are beginning to implement test students on a variety of characteristics to see whether or not they would qualify and succeed in gifted education programs. One issue that the new screening tests would fix compared to the older referrals is that non-English speaking students are overlooked because of a lack of parental referrals due to language barriers. When these tests were implemented on a small scale the statistics showed an increase in Hispanic students by 130 percent, and the number of black students increased by 80 percent. These statistics indicate that there are little to no consequences for minorities when these tests that are being implemented. In conclusion the authors suggest that the issues found in gifted educational programs can be fixed by comprehensive screenings.

Early Life Environment and Racial Inequality in Education and Earnings in the United States

[18] One of the major research themes in the National Bureau of Economic research is sources of inequality. Kenneth Y. Chay, Jonathan Guryan, and Bhashkar Mazumder conducted a study in which they analyzed the substantial gaps in test scores on the AFQT and NAEP tests among black-white cohorts. The National Bureau of Economic Research published an article titled “Early Life Environment and Racial Inequality in Education and Earnings in The United States” to eliminate any possible biases in Chay, Guryan and Mazumders’ previous analysis and address the primary caveats.

The National Bureau of Economic Research uses the term "gains" to reflect improvement in racial convergence. Prior studies have concluded black gains in AFQT and NAEP scores in the early 1980s, black gains in college enrollment in the mid-1980s, and black gains in earnings throughout the 1990s. It is concluded that black gains were centered among cohorts of blacks born in the South during the 1960s and 70s; therefore, not only is the study geographically exclusive, but data is also inconsistent with the contemporary causes in the 1980s and 1990s. These results would rather be indicating that black gains in the 1990s were influenced by the Civil Rights and War on Poverty periods (25–30 years before the 1990s).

With response to the education gap, new findings show that the cross-cohort gains in college enrollment only pertained to blacks born in the South (there were no relative gains for black in the North). New findings also show that gains in relative earnings are limited to blacks born in the 1965 to 1972 cohorts (ages 28–35 in 2002) and show no gains for other age groups. To conclude, the findings of this updated study indicate that racial gains are due primarily in part to birth date and birthplace.

Racial Inequality in the 21st Century

[19] The National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed the hindrances in quality of education of black and Hispanic students compared to the education of white students, the causes for black students to fall behind in the classroom faster than white students, as well as the attempts to fix these gaps in education between races. The most common factors contributing to racial gaps are thought to be “discrimination, culture, and genetics,” among others. The first study in the article concluded that the best way to eliminate racial inequality in the future, specifically with income inequality, would be to provide black and white students with the same skills. The next study indicates that white children show a higher level of education than black students as young as two years old. Possible explanations for this are that the older children are tested differently than younger children, which could have more to do with what the child has observed throughout the years than what they are innately capable of, that there are racial differences in the rates in which children develop, and that genes and environmental influences also come into play. The third study demonstrates that the inherent deviation in education in children before they enter school depends on their parental environment. Similarly, the fourth study concludes that intervention programs before children enter schools still need much work and are beneficial in some ways, but ultimately do not close the gap in education between black and white students. The fifth study looks at children from kindergarten to 12th grade, finding that there is an education gap present, but it is not clear where it is most present. However, the next study about exclusively high school students shows that eighth grade test scores specifically play a key role in the growing gap between high school students and their graduation rates. The seventh study analyzes the effect of intervention programs on students once they have entered school, and indicates that improvement within schools and teaching alone can positively affect the achievement of black students and make them more comparable to that of white students. The entire NBER article ultimately concludes that we still do not know how to close the achievement gap because of the present color line, but there are certainly ways to increase individual student achievement that may eventually make schools more productive overall.

Public Universities, Equal Opportunity, and the Legacy of Jim Crow: Evidence from North Carolina

[20] This study is a part of the NBER Working Paper Series, meaning it does not undergo the same peer and NBER board review as their regular research. Using data from the University of North Carolina system, which encompasses all public colleges in the state, the study looks at racial inequality at the collegiate level in regards to enrollment, completion, and various achievements, and the causation of such inequity. The study also mentions historically black colleges in North Carolina, and briefly questions whether they remain a positive contribution in contemporary America, arguing that they were a reaction to Jim Crow laws and tend to isolate African-American students from other racial groups.

Controlling for test scores, majors, and other scholastic factors, the study looks at administrative data from North Carolina K12 public schools of eighth graders both in 1999 and 2004, categorized both by race and socioeconomic standing. It then tracks these students through their expected graduation dates of both high school and college, given they continued to a North Carolina university, and they examined whatever racial stratification occurred within those time periods based on enrollment and graduation rates at each university.

The study found that African-Americans in the North Carolina public school system are greatly disadvantaged. In one group, controlling for gender, the study found that, of the 2004 eighth graders, African-American students were 4.6% less likely to attend a North Carolina university than their white peers, and “5.5 percentage points less likely to enroll and graduate within four years.” However, when controlling for parental higher education and eighth grade tests scores, the study found that African-American students of the aforementioned grouping are more likely to attend and graduate within four years from a North Carolina university, which the study attributes to the abundance of historically black colleges in the state.

Related Research Articles

Recession Business cycle contraction; general slowdown on economic activity

In economics, a recession is a business cycle contraction when there is a general decline in economic activity. Recessions generally occur when there is a widespread drop in spending. This may be triggered by various events, such as a financial crisis, an external trade shock, an adverse supply shock, the bursting of an economic bubble, or a large-scale anthropogenic or natural disaster. In the United States, it is defined as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales". In the United Kingdom, it is defined as a negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters.

Economy of the United States National economy

The economy of the United States is a highly developed free-market economy. It is the world's largest economy by nominal GDP and net wealth and the second-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). It has the world's fifth-highest per capita GDP (nominal) and the seventh-highest per capita GDP (PPP) in 2021. The United States has the most technologically powerful and innovative economy in the world. Its firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in artificial intelligence, computers, pharmaceuticals, and medical, aerospace, and military equipment. The U.S. dollar is the currency most used in international transactions and is the world's foremost reserve currency, backed by its economy, its military, the petrodollar system and its linked eurodollar and large U.S. treasuries market. Several countries use it as their official currency and in others it is the de facto currency. The largest U.S. trading partners are China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, India, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan. The U.S. is the world's largest importer and the second-largest exporter. It has free trade agreements with several countries, including the USMCA, Australia, South Korea, Israel and several others that are in effect or under negotiation.

Simon Kuznets American economist and statistician (1901-1984)

Simon Smith Kuznets was an American economist and statistician who received the 1971 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences "for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development."

Discrimination based on skin or hair color, also known as colorism, or shadeism, is a form of prejudice and/or discrimination in which people who share similar ethnicity traits or perceived race are treated differently based on the social implications that come with the cultural meanings that are attached to skin color.

Roland G. Fryer Jr. American economist

Roland Gerhard Fryer Jr. is an American economist. In 2007, at age 30, he became the youngest African-American to be given tenure at Harvard University.

Summer learning loss or summer slide, is the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation in countries that have lengthy breaks in the school year, such as the US and Canada. Schools see evidence of this because students are often given a standardized test prior to the summer break and again when they return to school in the fall.

The African-American middle class consists of Black Americans who have middle-class status within the American class structure. It is a societal level within the African-American community that primarily began to develop in the early 1960s, when the ongoing Civil Rights Movement led to the outlawing of de jure racial segregation. The African American middle class exists throughout the United States, particularly in the Northeast and in the South, with the largest contiguous majority black middle class neighborhoods being in the Washington, DC suburbs in Maryland. The African American middle class is also prevalent in the Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, New York, and Chicago areas.

Personal income in the United States

Personal income is an individual's total earnings from wages, investment interest, and other sources. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median personal income of $865 weekly for all full-time workers in 2017. The U.S. Census Bureau lists the annual real median personal income at $35,977 in 2019 with a base year of 2019.

Income inequality in the United States National income inequality

Income inequality in the United States is the extent to which income is distributed in differing amounts among the American population. It has fluctuated considerably since measurements began around 1915, moving in an arc between peaks in the 1920s and 2000s, with a 30-year period of relatively lower inequality between 1950 and 1980.

Thomas Joseph Kane is an American education economist who currently holds the position of Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and Economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has performed research on education policy, labour economics and econometrics. During Bill Clinton's first term as U.S. President, Kane served on the Council of Economic Advisers.

Educational inequality is the unequal distribution of academic resources, including but not limited to; school funding, qualified and experienced teachers, books, and technologies to socially excluded communities. These communities tend to be historically disadvantaged and oppressed. Individuals belonging to these marginalized groups are often denied access to schools with adequate resources. Inequality leads to major differences in the educational success or efficiency of these individuals and ultimately suppresses social and economic mobility.

Race is one of the correlates of crime receiving attention in academic studies, government surveys, media coverage, and public concern.

In the United States, despite the efforts of equality proponents, income inequality persists among races and ethnicities. Asian Americans have the highest median income, followed by White Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans. A variety of explanations for these differences have been proposed—such as differing access to education, two parent home family structure, high school dropout rates and experience of discrimination and deep-seated and systemic anti-Black racism—and the topic is highly controversial.

The racial achievement gap in the United States refers to disparities in educational achievement between differing ethnic/racial groups. It manifests itself in a variety of ways: African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to receive lower grades, score lower on standardized tests, drop out of high school, and they are less likely to enter and complete college than whites, while whites score lower than Asian Americans.

Racial inequality in the United States identifies the social inequality and advantages and disparities that affect different races within the United States. These can also be seen as a result of historic oppression, inequality of inheritance, or racism and prejudice, especially against minority groups.

Economists refer to the polarization of the labor force when middle-class jobs—requiring a moderate level of skills, like autoworkers’ jobs—seem to disappear relative to those at the bottom, requiring few skills, and those at the top, requiring greater skill levels. The structure of job opportunities in the United States has sharply polarized over the past two decades, with expanding job opportunities in both high-skill, high-wage occupations and low-skill, low wage occupations combined with contracting opportunities in middle-wage, middle-skill white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Although this has contributed to the rise of income inequality in the U.S. it is a minor factor compared to the relatively rapid rise in income and wealth by the top 1%. Employment and economic polarization is widespread across industrialized economies; it is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Over the past decades, wage gains were also polarized, with modest gains at the extremes and smaller gains in the middle. A good description of polarization in Great Britain is one of the first uses of the term, economic polarization.

Mariacristina De Nardi is an economist who was born in Treviso, Italy. She is the Thomas Sargent Professor at the University of Minnesota since 2019. In 2013, De Nardi was appointed professor of economics at University College London; since September 2018, she has been a senior scholar at the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Her research interests include macroeconomics, public economics, wealth distribution, savings, social-insurance reform, social security, household economics, health shocks, medical expenses, fertility and human capital.

Adriana Lleras-Muney is a Colombian-American economist. She is currently an Economics professor at the Department of Economics at UCLA. She was appointed as Associate Editor for the Journal of Health Economics in 2014 until today and is also one of the six elected members of the AEA Executive committee in 2018. Her research and study fields examins factors of socio-economic status and health with a particular focus on education, income, and economic development. In 2017, she was the recipient for the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) by President Obama.

Elizabeth Cascio is an applied economist and currently Associate Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College. Her research interests are in labor economics and public economics, and focus on the economic impact of policies affecting education in the United States. She is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Research Associate at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, and Co-editor of the Journal of Human Resources.


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  5. "NBER Conferences". NBER Conferences. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  6. McGann, James G. (2010). "The global "go-to think tanks" 2011. The leading public policy research organizations in the world". TTCSP Global Go to Think Tank Index Reports. doi:10.4324/9780203838273. ISBN   9780203838273 . Retrieved 2019-11-24.
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  9. 1 2 "The NBER's Business Cycle Dating Procedure: Frequently Asked Questions". The National Bureau of Economic Research.
  10. Maggs, John (19 April 2010). "Who Decides When The Recession Ends?". Archived from the original on 2010-04-23.
  11. "Recession 'over,' but the mood is glum". Buffalo News. September 27, 2010.
  12. "Economist who called recession's end sees recovery". Investment News. September 28, 2010.
  13. "CNN Poll: Nearly three-fourths say recession not over". CNN. September 26, 2010.
  14. "Meaning of word 'recession' varies". Delmarva News. September 28, 2010.[ permanent dead link ]
  15. "Editorial: Too early to say recession has run its course in U.S." The Daily Republic. September 28, 2010. Archived from the original on May 17, 2013.
  16. "Business Cycle Dating Committee, National Bureau of Economic Research". National Bureau of Economic Research. September 20, 2010.
  17. Card, David, Giuliano, Laura (September 2015). "Can Universal Screening Increase the representation of Low Income and Minority Students in Gifted Education?". NBER Working Paper Series. National Bureau of Economic Research. doi: 10.3386/w21519 .
  18. Chay, Kenneth, Guryan, Johnathan (October 2014). "Early Life Environment and Racial Inequality in Education and Earnings in the United States" (PDF). NBER Working Paper Series. National Bureau of Economic Research. doi: 10.3386/w20539 .
  19. Fryer, Jr, Roland G (August 2010). "Racial Inequality in the 21st Century: The Declining Significance of Discrimination". NBER Working Paper Series. National Bureau of Economic Research. doi: 10.3386/w16256 .
  20. Clotfelter, Charles T, Ladd, Helen F (September 2015). "Public Universities, Equal Opportunity, and the Legacy of Jim Crow: Evidence from North Carolina". NBER Working Paper Series. National Bureau of Economic Research. doi: 10.3386/w21577 .