S1E22: Interview with Robert Michael, Professor Emeritus at University of Chicago
Robert Michael, professor emeritus at University of Chicago, was a student of Nobel laureate Gary Becker from a productive period when Becker was at Columbia up through the late 1960s and in this interview shares a bit of why that time was so special. As you may recall, I have been doing my only little “mixtape” about Becker’s students and previously interviewed Bob’s old classmate and longtime friend, Mike Grossman. Bob describes a lot about the secret sauce that made Columbia such a special time for people like him, Mike, Bill and Elizabeth Landes, Isaac Ehrlich and many others. It wasn’t merely the chance to be mentored by Becker according to Bob; it was also Jacob Mincer and how complementary those two were — yin and yang, theory and empirical rigor. Bob would go on to helping shape the profession, not merely through his wonderful scholarship, but also through his overseeing of numerous important panel and cross-sectional datasets. The two with which I am most familiar are the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, which I wrote my dissertation on, and the National Health and Social Life Survey, a 1992 survey which was the first representative survey of adult American sexual behavior.
He co-authored two books about sex in fact — one entitled The Social Organization of Sexuality and Sex in America. Both of these books document the sexual practices of adult Americans from that early 1992 period, riding on the crest of the AIDS epidemic and helping us better understand the basic facts about sex in America. I think you will be deeply moved, though, listening to Bob describe the lengths to which they at NORC went to talk to respondents and learn about their sexual behavior was stunning and not surprising. He notes that some respondents wept during the survey because, as they said, they had literally never talked to anyone about some of these important parts of their lives, some not even their own spouses, therapists or doctors. And yet Bob had with his team at NORC created such a safe, compassionate and respectful environment that not only could he ask intimate questions to strangers, but in fact have a nearly 90% response rate of people willing to share. A true model of science — curious, careful and compassionate.