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Nobel prize won by US economist

Explaining why people marry, have children, divorce, commit crimes and racially discriminate won Professor Gary Becker the pounds 700,000 Nobel prize for economics yesterday.

The 61-year-old professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago is the third Chicago economist to win the prize in as many years, helping to extend recent American domination of the award. The prize, which is sometimes shared, has been won by 19 Americans since 1969, but only six Britons.

Professor Becker won the award for extending the application of economic theory to almost all facets of human behaviour. His work assumes that people always behave rationally - although it often does not seem that way.

He argues, for example, that crime is rational under conditions of uncertainty. He believes that spending more on the police is more effective than keeping people in prison for longer, because criminals are deterred more by the fear of being caught than by the length of sentences.

Professor Becker has also recommended that people approach marriage as a long-term agreement, signing pre-nuptial contracts that spell out how property should be divided and who should get custody of the children in the event of a divorce.

Professor Becker was an undergraduate at Princeton.

He has not yet applied his rigorous mental techniques to the problem of how to spend the prize money.

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