Obituary for Dale T. Mortensen

Dale T. Mortensen, Professor, Nobel Prize winner and a dear friend of Aarhus University, passed away on 9 January. Read the obituary here, written by Bent Jesper Christensen and Henning Bunzel.

2014.01.10 | Bent Jesper Christensen & Henning Bunzel

Dale T. Mortensen passed away on January 9, 2014, after three months of serious illness. He was with his wife Beverly, their three children, and many family members until the end.
Dale has been a tremendous inspiration for researchers and students at Aarhus University for decades. Dale’s father was born in Denmark, and emigrated with his family to the US at age 10.
In 1982, Dale was in Denmark on a research visit where he established professional and personal contacts that have remained intact since then. Years later, Dale was able to bring his father to Denmark and reintroduce him to his Danish family.

In 1998, Dale spent a sabbatical at Aarhus University to study the detailed Danish register-based matched employer-employee data. It is Dale’s great contribution to create beautiful economic models that can actually explain the dispersion seen in these data by accounting for the fact that it takes time and chance for firms and workers to meet and match.
Dale has collaborated with researchers in Aarhus since then, from 2006 supported by a five-year Niels Bohr Professorship funded by the Danish National Research Foundation, and from 2011 supported by the Cycles, Adjustment, and Policy research unit funded by the Danish Social Science Research Council and Aarhus University.

Dale T. Mortensen held the Ida C. Cook Chair in Economics at Northwestern University and maintained a joint affiliation at Aarhus University.
He was a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a research fellow of the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), a past president of the Society of Economics Dynamics, one of the founding editors of the Review of Economic Dynamics, a Fellow of the Econometric Society, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Society for Labor Economics, and the 2005 co-winner of the IZA Prize in Labor Economics.
Mortensen pioneered the theory of job search and search unemployment and extended it to the study of labor turnover, research and development, personal relationships, real estate, public finance, labor reallocation, and economic growth through innovation.

His key insight, that frictions are equivalent to the random arrival of trading partners, has become the leading technique for analysis of labor markets and the effects of labor market policy, and has provided crucial thrust to the idea that searching for wage offers and jobs is costly when workers and firms lack full information about prices in the labor market.
This pioneering work constituted a genuine paradigm shift in thinking about unemployment, and Dale himself has been among the leading figures in showing how these tools can be used for gaining a better empirical understanding of the working of labor markets.
In 2010, Dale T. Mortensen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences together with Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides, for their analysis of markets with search frictions.

Dale and Beverly have taught us so much, not just economics, they taught us of life and how to live it, with their vast knowledge and passion for all aspects of art, culture, music, literature, religion, philosophy, and so many other areas.
They have often been to our homes to spend time with our families, sing and play music with our kids, or take us for a sandwich, coffee or a beer at Dale’s Café in the Dale T. Mortensen Building on campus.
Many a summer grill evening with the Mortensens has started out with the Danes as grillmeisters, the grill not being hot enough when Dale and Bev arrived, many snacks and glasses of wine being consumed while waiting for that to happen, and always ending with Dale having to help getting the grilling job done properly.

Getting to know Dale and Bev also meant that you got to know their whole family—their children Karl, Lia, Julie and their families, their eight grandchildren, Dale’s brothers Irving and Arnie, and members of Dale’s Danish family, too. As late as December 17 through 19, Bent Jesper visited with Dale and Beverly in Wilmette, Chicago, and was amazed that even at that stage Dale was able to work hard with Bent Jesper on their joint paper with Jesper Bagger, Royal Holloway, using these elegant models to explain the dispersion in firm productivities and wages in the Danish data.
We have also edited a book with Dale that is now coming out, featuring the work by Northwestern and Aarhus students of Dale over the years, applying his models to the Danish data, and together with Dale we have started a Nordic collaboration with annual meetings.
It is an intellectual giant and a dear friend who has moved on. Dale will be missed by all of us.

Bent Jesper Christensen and Henning Bunzel

On behalf of our families, and friends and colleagues at Department of Economics and Business and Aarhus University.

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