Richard Titmuss

Richard Titmuss
Born (1907-10-16)16 October 1907
Died 6 April 1973(1973-04-06) (aged 65)
Nationality British
Fields Social policy, social work
Institutions London School of Economics
Spouse Kathleen Miller

Richard Morris Titmuss CBE, FBA (1907–1973) was a pioneering British social researcher and teacher. He founded the academic discipline of Social Administration (now largely known in universities as Social Policy) and held the founding chair in the subject at the London School of Economics.

His books and articles of the 1950s helped to define the characteristics of Britain's post World War II welfare state and of a universal welfare society, in ways that parallel the contributions of Gunnar Myrdal in Sweden. He is honoured in the Richard Titmuss Chair in Social Policy at the LSE, which is currently held by Julian Le Grand.

He is also honoured by the annual Richard Titmuss Memorial Lecture in the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.


Titmuss was born in 1907, the second child of a farmer; he was brought up in the countryside and left school at 14 with no formal qualifications. An autodidact, he worked for a large insurance company as an actuary for 16 years whilst simultaneously pursuing an interest in social topics through reading, debating and writing.[1] His initial concerns were with such issues as insurance and the age structure of the population, migration, unemployment and re-armament, foreign policy and the peace movement. In 1938 he published Poverty and Population, which focused on the regional differences between the North and South. In 1939, he published Our Food Problem. Around this time, Titmuss was also active in the British Eugenics Society.

In 1942, he was recruited to write a volume in the civil series of the official war history, Problems of Social Policy, a work which established his reputation as well as securing him the new chair at the London School of Economics. In this process, he was strongly supported by the sociologist T. H. Marshall.

At the LSE, where he was the first professor of Social Administration, he transformed the teaching of social work and social workers and established Social Policy as an academic discipline. He also contributed to a number of government committees on the health service and social policy.[2] He also did some consulting in Africa, sometimes together with Professor Brian Abel-Smith, who was later his successor in his chair.

His concerns focused especially on issues of social justice. His final and perhaps the most important book, The Gift Relationship expressed his own philosophy of altruism in social and health policy and, like much of his work, emphasized his preference for the values of public service over private or commercial forms of care. The book was influential and resulted in a study of the blood bank systems, specifically with regard to regulation on the private blood market exchange. President Nixon called for a complete study of the lack of coordination within the system only months following publication of Titmuss' findings.[3]

He has been criticized by Kenneth Arrow[4] for a somewhat poor reading of some sociological classics (though he never claimed to be a sociologist), such as the works of Émile Durkheim; while this may partly reflect his somewhat inadequate academic training, it also derives from his impatience with non-participatory sociology and his preference (this became a defining characteristic of "his" discipline of 'social administration') for engagement with contemporary social policy issues and even some of its more fallible institutions. For example, he was much criticised for his role as a vice-chairman of the government's Supplementary Benefits Commission which some critics felt did not allow him enough distance. He, by contrast argued in favour of trying to make inadequate institutions work better for the benefit of the poor even if his involvement with them had the potential to sully the purity of his reputation.

He held his chair from 1950, after brief spells in the Cabinet Office and the Social Medicine Research Unit, until his death in 1973.


Some of his works are still read and some have been re-printed in newly edited forms exploring their contemporary relevance. Many of the writings for which he is known were actually delivered as lectures at the LSE or when he was a much sought-after public speaker. Although several of these were later assembled as 'readers' or 'essays', he never completed a summary of his work or philosophy nor wrote a single magnum opus on social policy. Consequently there remains some confusion in secondary literature on his precise perspective on key issues, either of sociology or public policy.

The Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy was established after his death. Like Titmuss, its current holder, Professor Julian Le Grand has been a government adviser on health policy. However, his emphasis on the potential for the private or quasi markets within the NHS differs markedly from that of Titmuss who strongly believed in the state and universal services that were allocated exclusively on the basis of needs (instead of income or prestige).

Personal life

The grave of Titmuss and his wife, Kay, in Highgate Cemetery.

He married Kathleen ("Kay") Miller, a social worker. Their only daughter, Ann Oakley, has edited some of his works for recent re-publication, and has written a biography of her parents, Man and Wife: Richard and Kay Titmuss: My Parents' Early Years.[5]

Major works

His major works include:

See also recently edited collections of his lectures and articles:


  1. Kynaston, David (2007). A World to Build. London: Bloomsbury. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7475-8540-4.
  2. Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7475-8385-1.
  3. Lyons, Richard D. (March 3, 1972). "BLOOD BANK STUDY ORDERED BY NIXON; H.E.W. Told to Develop Plan for National Collection and Distribution System". New York Times. New York. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  4. Arrow, Kenneth (1972). "Gifts and Exchanges". In Phelps, Edmund S. Altruism Morality and Economic Theory. New York: Russel Sage Foundation. pp. 13–28. ISBN 0-87154-659-0.
  5. Oakley, Ann (1997). Man and wife: Richard and Kay Titmuss: my parents' early years. London: Flamingo. ISBN 978-0-00-655013-6.
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