National Bureau of Economic Research

Coordinates: 42°22′11″N 71°06′46″W / 42.3697°N 71.1127°W / 42.3697; -71.1127
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National Bureau of Economic Research
Founded1920; 103 years ago (1920)
FounderWesley Clair Mitchell
TypeNonprofit organization
LeaderJames M. Poterba
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015)$33,988,867[2]

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".[3] The NBER is known for providing start and end dates for recessions in the United States.

Many chairpersons of the Council of Economic Advisers were previously NBER Research Associates, including the former NBER president and Harvard Professor, Martin Feldstein. The NBER's president and CEO is James M. Poterba of MIT.


The NBER was founded in 1920 by Malcolm Rorty and Nachum Stone. Its first staff economist and director of research was Wesley Clair Mitchell.

The Russian American economist Simon Kuznets, a 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.[citation needed]

In the early 1940s, Kuznets's work on national income became the basis of official measurements of GNP and other related indices of economic activity.[4] The NBER is currently located in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a branch office in New York City.[citation needed]


The NBER's research activities are mostly identified by 20 research programs on different subjects and 14 working groups. The research programs are: Economics of Aging, Asset Pricing, Children, Corporate Finance, Development Economics, Development of the American Economy, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Economics of Education, Environment and Energy Economics, Health Care, Health Economics, Industrial Organization, International Finance and Macroeconomics, International Trade and Investment, Labor Studies, Law and Economics, Monetary Economics, Political Economy, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, and Public Economics.[5] The working groups are: Behavioral Finance, Chinese Economy, Cohort Studies, Economics of Crime, Entrepreneurship, Risks of Financial Institutions, Household Finance, Innovation Policy, Insurance, Market Design, Organizational Economics, Personnel Economics, Race and Stratification in the Economy, and Urban Economics.[6] From this research come the NBER's Working Papers.[citation needed]


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.[7]

Notable members[edit]

Winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences[edit]

(In descending chronological order and by last name)

Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) Chairs[edit]

(In descending chronological order)

Other notable members[edit]

(In alphabetical order by last name)


According to the NBER, they are funded by grants from government agencies, private foundations, by corporate and individual contributions, and by income from the NBER's investment portfolio. The largest donators currently are the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Social Security Administration, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.[8] In 2015, NBER's annual revenue was about $33 million.[citation needed]

Policy impact[edit]

In a 2010 report by the University of Pennsylvania, the NBER was ranked as the second most influential domestic economic policy think tank (the first was the Brookings Institution).[9]

Recession markers[edit]

The NBER is also known for its start and end dates of US recessions. The NBER is claimed by some to serve the role as an arbiter of whether the U.S. is in a recession or not.[10] The origins of this role can be traced to the 1960s when the Commerce Department began publishing a digest that relied on NBER's analysis of the business cycle.[10] The recession markers are made by the Business Cycle Dating Committee, whose eight members are selected by the president of the NBER. The eight members tend to be highly distinguished economists.[10] The committee's meetings are held on the third floor of NBER's headquarters.[10] The meetings are neither publicized nor on a fixed schedule.[10] The board's decisions are not always unanimous, but the disagreements within the committee tend not to be about the presence of a recession; rather they are about the specific start and end points of the recession.[10]

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".[11] Business cycle dates are determined by the NBER dating committee. Typically, these dates correspond to peaks and troughs in real GDP, although not always so.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[13] 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.[citation needed]

Announcement of end of 2007–2009 recession[edit]

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.[15][16] 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.[17][18][19] 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."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Contact the NBER". National Bureau of Economic Research. 2022. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "National Bureau of Economic Research Inc" (PDF). Foundation Center. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  3. ^ "History of the NBER". The National Bureau of Economic Research.
  4. ^ Carson, Carol (1975). "The History of the United States National Income and Product Accounts: The Development of an Analytical Tool". Review of Income & Wealth. 21 (2): 153–181. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4991.1975.tb00687.x.
  5. ^ "Major NBER Programs". The National Bureau of Economic Research.
  6. ^ "Programs & Working Groups". NBER. Retrieved April 28, 2023.
  7. ^ "NBER Conferences". NBER Conferences. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
  8. ^ "Support & Funding".
  9. ^ 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 November 24, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "The 8 economists who decide if the U.S. is in a recession". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  11. ^ "National slowdown dims New England economic outlook". The Boston Globe. May 30, 2008.
  12. ^ "The NBER's Recession Dating Procedure". The National Bureau of Economic Research.
  13. ^ a b "The NBER's Business Cycle Dating Procedure: Frequently Asked Questions". The National Bureau of Economic Research.
  14. ^ Maggs, John (April 19, 2010). "Who Decides When The Recession Ends?". National Journal. Archived from the original on April 23, 2010.
  15. ^ "Recession 'over,' but the mood is glum". Buffalo News. September 27, 2010.
  16. ^ "Economist who called recession's end sees recovery". Investment News. September 28, 2010.
  17. ^ "CNN Poll: Nearly three-fourths say recession not over". CNN. September 26, 2010.
  18. ^ "Meaning of word 'recession' varies". Delmarva News. September 28, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "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.
  20. ^ "Business Cycle Dating Committee, National Bureau of Economic Research". National Bureau of Economic Research. September 20, 2010.

External links[edit]