Arthur Pigou, a British economist who is credited with coining the term “human capital”, believed there would be an under-supply of trained workers because companies would not want to teach skills to employees only to see them poached by rivals.
After the second world war, when America's GI bill helped millions complete high school and university, education started to receive more attention from economists, Becker among them.
The son of parents who had never got beyond the eighth grade but who filled his childhood home with discussions about politics, he wanted to investigate the structure of society.
Lectures by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, where Becker completed his graduate studies in 1955, showed him the analytical power of economic theory.
Doctoral degree in hand, Becker, then in his mid-20s, was hired by the National Bureau of Economic Research to work on a project calculating returns on schooling.
随后，在25、6岁的时候，博士学位在手的贝克尔受雇于国民经济调查局(National Bureau of Economic Research)，为一个计算教育回报的项目工作。
What seemed a simple question led him to realise that no one had yet fleshed out the concept of human capital.
In subsequent years he developed it into a full-fledged theory that could be applied to any number of questions and, soon enough, to issues previously seen as outside the realm of economics, from marriage to fertility.
One of Becker's earliest contributions was to distinguish between specific and general human capital.
Specific capital arises when workers acquire knowledge directly tied to their firms, such as how to use proprietary software.
Companies are happy to pay for this kind of training because it is not transferable.
By contrast, as Pigou suggested, firms are often reluctant to stump up for general human capital: teach employees to be good software programmers and they may well jump ship to whichever company pays them the most.