National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is a private, non-profit research organization that focuses on conducting and disseminating economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.
Updated: Jun 26, 2024

3 key takeaways

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  • NBER is a leading economic research organization known for its rigorous, non-partisan analysis of economic issues and its role in determining business cycle dates, including recessions and expansions.
  • It provides a wide range of economic data and conducts research on various economic topics, including macroeconomics, labor economics, health economics, and financial markets.
  • NBER’s research findings are widely used by policymakers, academics, and business leaders to inform economic policy and decision-making.

What is the NBER?

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The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is an esteemed institution dedicated to conducting economic research and providing data analysis on a wide range of economic topics. It is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and collaborates with researchers and economists from universities and institutions across the United States and around the world.

Key characteristics

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  • Non-profit organization: NBER operates as a non-profit entity, focusing on producing high-quality, non-partisan economic research.
  • Research dissemination: NBER disseminates its research findings through working papers, conferences, seminars, and publications.
  • Business cycle dating: One of NBER’s key roles is determining the official dates of business cycles, including the peaks and troughs that mark recessions and expansions in the economy.

History and evolution

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Establishment and early years

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NBER was founded in 1920 by economists Wesley Clair Mitchell, Edwin Francis Gay, and other prominent figures. The organization aimed to address the need for empirical research on economic issues and to provide data-driven insights to inform policy and business decisions.

Expansion and growth

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Over the years, NBER has expanded its research scope to cover various fields of economics, including macroeconomics, microeconomics, health economics, labor economics, and international economics. Its working paper series, launched in 1973, has become a cornerstone for disseminating preliminary research findings to the academic and policy communities.

Key functions and contributions

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Business cycle dating

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NBER is renowned for its role in determining the official dates of business cycles in the United States. The Business Cycle Dating Committee, composed of leading economists, analyzes a range of economic indicators to identify the peaks and troughs that signify the start and end of recessions and expansions.

Research programs

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NBER organizes its research into various programs, each focusing on a specific area of economics. These programs facilitate collaboration among researchers and support the development of specialized knowledge in fields such as:

  • Monetary Economics: Studies the behavior of interest rates, inflation, and monetary policy.
  • Public Economics: Examines government taxation, spending policies, and their impact on the economy.
  • Health Economics: Analyzes healthcare systems, health behaviors, and health policy.
  • Labor Studies: Investigates labor markets, employment, wages, and workforce dynamics.

Data collection and dissemination

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NBER collects and disseminates a vast array of economic data, providing valuable resources for researchers, policymakers, and the public. This includes macroeconomic data, survey data, and historical data series.

Conferences and publications

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NBER hosts numerous conferences and seminars where researchers present their findings and discuss economic issues. The organization also publishes its research in various formats, including working papers, books, and journal articles.

Impact and influence

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Policy influence

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NBER’s research findings are widely used by policymakers to inform economic policy and decision-making. The organization’s rigorous, data-driven approach ensures that its research is credible and relevant to contemporary economic issues.

Academic contribution

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NBER’s working papers and publications are highly regarded in the academic community. Researchers from universities and institutions around the world contribute to and utilize NBER’s research, fostering collaboration and advancing economic knowledge.

Public understanding

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By providing accessible and reliable economic research, NBER enhances public understanding of economic issues. Its role in business cycle dating, for instance, helps the public and media understand the state of the economy and the timing of recessions and recoveries.

Example of NBER’s work

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Determining the Great Recession dates

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NBER’s Business Cycle Dating Committee identified December 2007 as the peak (the start of the recession) and June 2009 as the trough (the end of the recession) for the Great Recession. This determination was based on a comprehensive analysis of economic indicators such as GDP, employment, industrial production, and income.

Health economics research

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NBER has produced influential research in health economics, such as studies on the impact of health insurance coverage on health outcomes, the economic effects of public health interventions, and the determinants of healthcare costs. These studies provide valuable insights for shaping health policy and improving healthcare systems.


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The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) plays a critical role in advancing economic knowledge and informing policy through its rigorous research and data analysis. Its contributions to business cycle dating, economic research, and data dissemination make it a cornerstone of economic scholarship and policy analysis. Understanding NBER’s functions and impact provides valuable insights into the importance of empirical research in shaping economic understanding and decision-making.

Related Topics:

  • Business cycle
  • Economic indicators
  • Macroeconomics
  • Labor economics
  • Health economics

Exploring these topics will provide a deeper understanding of NBER’s role in economic research, its methodologies, and its impact on policy and academic discourse.

Sources & references
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