Anthony B. Atkinson papers, 1944-2021, bulk dates 1967-2017

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Atkinson, A. B. (Anthony Barnes), 1944-2017
Anthony Atkinson (1944-2017) was Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford University. This collection primarily documents his professional life through his research, writings, professional activities, correspondence, and teaching. It was acquired as part of the Economists' Papers Archive.
125 Linear Feet (108 record cartons, 12 flat boxes, and one electronic records box.)
10.0 Gigabytes (One set.)
Materials are primarily in English; some material also in Dutch, French, German, and Greek.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The materials in this collection are from Atkinson's home and complement three other collections of his office files held by British institutions.

The primary subjects are economic inequality and poverty measurements, income and wealth distribution, public and welfare economics, taxation design, top incomes, and UK and European social policy. There are records related to the founding of the Journal of Public Economics in 1972, Atkinson's tenure as Warden of Nuffield College from 1994-2005, and his hobbies of sailing and walking.

The most common types of material are research files, manuscript files for writings, and files on his professional activities as an economist and faculty member. To a lesser extent, there is university teaching material and personal material (including awards and honors), and while there are some dedicated correspondence files, there is much more correspondence interfiled in other files. There are a notable number of photographic prints, both of a professional and personal nature, and journalistic writings that mention or quote Atkinson. There are 40 floppy disks, six CDs, and three DVDs, the contents of which have been transferred to a server and are available; they primarily contain professional activities, research, and writings.

The greatest amount of professional correspondence is with François Bourguignon, Andrea Brandolini (student), Frank Hahn (teacher), Alan Harrison, Stephen Jenkins (student), Mervyn King, James Meade (teacher), John Micklewright, Salvatore Morelli, Thomas Piketty, Amartya Sen, Nicholas Stern, and Frank Vandenbroucke. There is also a notable amount of personal correspondence with Atkinson's wife Judith and their children Sarah, Charles, and Richard.

Biographical / historical:

Anthony Barnes Atkinson (1944-1917) was a white British academic economist who was born in Caerleon (Wales) on 4 September 1944 to Norman (1905-1990) and Esther Atkinson (born Esther Stonehouse; 1905-2004). They had relocated from London due to World War II but eventually returned home, and Anthony grew up in Bexleyheath and was a boarder at Cranbrook School. He spent a year in London as a trainee computer programmer at IBM and another in Hamburg as a nurse at Community Service Volunteers, an experience which he said changed his life by putting him into direct contact with poverty. He enrolled at Churchill College, University of Cambridge on scholarship and volunteered at Fulbourn Psychiatric Hospital, where he met Judith Mandeville. They married in 1965 and had three children: Richard (born 1972), Sarah (born 1974), and Charles (born 1976).

Atkinson switched from mathematics to economics during his second year at Cambridge and was taught by Frank Hahn, James Meade, Dick Goodwin, Jim Mirrlees, and Peter Diamond. He also met Joseph Stiglitz, then a Fulbright Scholar, with whom he began a collaboration that culminated in 1980 with their Lectures on Public Economics. After graduation in 1966, he was invited to spend a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a research assistant for Robert Solow, with another fellowship at St John's College, Cambridge waiting for him upon his return. At MIT, he also connected with then graduate students Avinash Dixit and Robert Hall.

Throughout his career, Atkinson successfully conducted both theoretical and empirical research. From his first book, Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security (1969), to his last completed book, Inequality—What can be done? (2015; cited over 3,500 times by 2023), he addressed empirical problems of inequality and income distribution. One of his first papers, "On the Measurement of Inequality" (1970), was a theoretical approach to inequality where he introduced what became known as the Atkinson index (cited almost 10,000 times by 2023). His interest in the role of the state in the economy led him to contribute to launching the field of public economics in the 1970s through his writings, like "Pigou, Taxation and Public Goods" and "The Design of Tax Structure," and the founding of the Journal of Public Economics in 1972, which he edited for 26 years.

Atkinson moved to the University of Essex in 1971, where he received a full professorship at the age of 27. While there, he began teaching a course on the economics of inequality, which led to a book of the same title published in 1975 and reedited in 1983. He also became involved with UK and European groups working on social policy in the 1970s, most notably the Labour Party (UK), the Child Poverty Action Group, the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth, and the Commission of the European Communities.

Atkinson moved to University College London in 1976, then to the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1980, where he became Tooke Professor of Economic Science and Statistics, as well as chairman of the Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines in 1981. He was elected president of several professional associations in the late 1980s and 1990s, including the European Economic Association (1989), the International Economic Association (1989-1992), and the Royal Economic Society (1995-1998).

Atkinson returned to Cambridge in 1992 but left after two years to become warden of Nuffield College, University of Oxford, where he remained until 2005. He became involved with the Luxemburg Income Study during this time and was eventually president from 2011-2017. As economists became more interested in the economic effects of the welfare state during the 1990s, he became one of the main defenders of social policies in the UK and European Union countries through such works as Incomes and the Welfare State in 1995 and The Economic Consequences of Rolling Back the Welfare State in 1999.

Atkinson spent a year at the Paris School of Economics in 2006, where he continued his work on income distribution with François Bourguignon and Thomas Piketty. After returning to the UK, he held a chair at Oxford for three years until he was legally forced to retire at age 65 in 2009. He then became a part-time Centennial Professor at the LSE, while still travelling to give invited talks, participate in conferences, and consult for public advisory committees on inequality and poverty.

Among Atkinson's many awards, honorary doctorates, and other accolades, he was made a Knight Bachelor in 2000 and a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 2001. He published over 350 articles and book chapters and authored or edited over 40 books and reports before his death on 1 January 2017 in Oxford.


Atkinson, Judith. How our Apprenticeships Became our Partnership. Self-published, 2022.

Brandolini, Andrea, Stephen P. Jenkins, and John Micklewright. "Anthony Barnes Atkinson. 4 September 1944-1 January 2017." Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy 17 (2017): 179-190.

Kleven, Henrik J., and Erzo F. P. Luttmer. "A Special Issue of the Journal of Public Economics: Honoring the Work of Sir Anthony B. Atkinson (1944-2017)." Journal of Public Economics 162 (2018): 1-3.

Acquisition information:
The Anthony B. Atkinson papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as gifts from Judith Atkinson in 2018 and Nuffield College in 2021.
Processing information:

Processed by Zachary Tumlin and Vincent Carret, April 2023.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2018-0022 and 2021-0086.


The Anthony B. Atkinson papers are arranged into six series: Research, Writings, Professional Activities, Correspondence, Teaching, and Personal.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Anthony B. Atkinson papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.