Obituaries and Autobiographies

At the end of the day, the NY Times votes on “who is an important person” when it chooses who earns an obituary.  Today, the Public Editor writes about the Times’ hard choices.  As an academic, I have been surprised that academics appear to be greatly over-represented in the obituary pool.  Is it because we are more likely to die than other people?

When I was a kid, my class visited the NY Times headquarters.  Our tour guide pulled out the already written obituary of a famous living baseball player. I was shocked!

Obituaries and autobiographies must be positively correlated.

The Style Section of today’s NY Times has a long piece about what Harvard’s graduates write about themselves as they age.  To quote the article; “ This trance-inducing volume, a facebook that came before Facebook, consists of dispatches from graduates who have chosen to file and have evaded the terse message “last known address,” “address unknown” or (it doesn’t get terser) “died.”  The information includes the biographical basics — address, e-mail, occupation, spouse, children — and an account of their lives, often true, over the last half-decade.”


Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

2 thoughts on “Obituaries and Autobiographies”

  1. Academics more likely to die???

    I think Keynes famous quip about the “long run” pretty much covers the probability of death.

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