Joseph J. Spengler - Biography


Spengler was born in Piqua, Ohio. He initially studied journalism at college, but dropped out after his first year to become a crime reporter. A year later he returned to higher education, at first studying sociology and political science, but eventually gravitating to economics. He received his B.A., M.A., and PhD from Ohio State University, where his 1930 doctoral dissertation was a comparative study on the fertitlity rates of native-born and immigrant women in the United States. After a stint teaching at the University of Arizona he joined the faculty of Duke University in 1932, initially as a visiting professor, and became a permanent member of the faculty in 1934. He was to remain there until his retirement as the James B. Duke Professor of Economics in 1972. With Earl J. Hamilton, Spengler established the university's first graduate level program in Economic History as well as the History of Political Economy (HOPE) research group.

During World War II, he worked for the Office of Price Administration as the price executive for the Southeastern region of the United States and over the years held several other advisory posts to the US government and the United Nations. His interest in population studies and the demographic aspects of economics reflected in his doctoral dissertation, became a major focus of his research and writing thoroughout his career. His first book, France Faces Depopulation, published in 1938, examined the cultural and political causes of France's pre-World War II population decline, and one of his last major books was The Economics of Individual and Population Aging, published in 1980. In 1972, Duke University Press published a collection of his classic essays in the area: Population Economics: Selected Essays of Joseph J. Spengler.

Joseph Spengler died in Durham, North Carolina from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 88. He was survived by his wife, the former Dorothy Marie Kress. The couple married in 1927 and were co-authors of "Maintenance of Postwar Full Employment" (1944). Spengler's 1978 book, Facing Zero Population Growth: Reactions and Interpretations, Past and Present has the dedication:

To Dorothy Kress Spengler, my wife, companion, and co-worker for fifty years

In 2004, the History of Economics Society established the annual Joseph J. Spengler Prize for the best book published on the history of economics.

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