Wilhelm Lexis

Economist, Academic

1837 – 1914

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Who was Wilhelm Lexis?

Wilhelm Lexis, full name Wilhelm Hector Richard Leberecht Lexis, was an eminent German statistician, economist, and social scientist and a founder of the interdisciplinary study of insurance.

Born in Eschweiler as the son of a physician, Lexis obtained a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Heidelberg, where he was an assistant of the famous Chemist Robert Bunsen. He then worked as a Gymnasium teacher, librarian, and journalist, until in 1872 he became, until 1874, extraordinary professor at the newly refounded German-language Imperial University of Straßburg. In 1874-1876, he taught at the University of Tartu, then at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, since 1884 at the University of Breslau, and from 1887 at the University of Göttingen, which was his final appointment. He died in Göttingen.

Although the author of an Allgemeine Volkswirtschaftslehre and certainly a distinguished economist, even a pioneer of Law and Economics thinking and of the study of consumption and crises, Lexis is today primarily known as a statistician, partially due to his creation of the Lexis ratio. His reputation as a demographer is underlined by the ubiquity of Lexis Diagrams, which are named for him, although primary credit for their invention belongs to Gustav Zeuner and O. Brasche. He is also one of the founding fathers of the interdisciplinary, professional study of insurance. A Kathedersozialist, he was closely affiliated with academic policy makers in Prussia and one of Friedrich Althoff’s experts and the editor of important works on German higher education, most famously the six-volume Das Unterrichtswesen im Deutschen Reich, compiled for the St. Louis World's Fair of that year and still the key reference work for that time. Lexis' theoretical works on social science epistemology are largely forgotten but very relevant today.

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Jul 17, 1837
Also known as
  • Wilhelm Hector Richard Albrecht Lexis
  • Germany
  • Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg
Oct 25, 1914

on July 23, 2013


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