The family lives in Europe for a time, and North goes to school at the Lycée Jaccuard in the region of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1929-30.

He decides to switch from American to European economic history. He receives a grant to live in Geneva for a year.

He marries for the first time in 1944. During his graduate training his wife teaches at school, providing the major source of support. They have three sons. His wife becomes a successful politician in the Washington State legislature.

In 1972 he marries his second wife, Elisabeth Case.

When the family moves back to the United States in 1933, he attends private schools in New York City and on Long Island, and then completes his high school education at the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut.

After graduating, he serves as a navigator in the U.S. Merchant Marine from 1941 to 1946, traveling between San Francisco and Australia. During this time, he reads a lot about economics and picks up his lifetime hobby of photography. He teaches navigation at the Maritime Service Officers' School in Alameda during the last year of the war, and struggles with the decision of whether to become a photographer or an economist.

He begins his academic career at the University of Washington in Seattle where he spends 33 years as a member of the economics faculty, including a 12-year tenure as department chair and five years as director of the Institute for Economic Research.

He spends a year as a Professor of Political Economics at Rice University in 1979.

He shares the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with Robert Fogel "for applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change". He has spent decades pondering questions like: Why do some countries become rich, while others remain poor? His research interests have included property rights, transaction costs, economic organization in history, political and economic institutions and the consequences of these on the performance of economies.

North holds a position as Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University in 1981.

He spends a year at the National Bureau of Economic Research as a research associate.

North decides to return to school at Berkeley to pursue a PhD in economics, with the clear intention to improve societies. He believes he can contribute by finding out what makes economies work the way they do. He finishes his studies in 1952.

He joins the faculty of Washington University in Saint Louis in 1983 as a Professor of Law and Liberty in the Department of Economics. He creates the Center for Political Economy and serves as its director from 1984-1990. North is still teaching there, and is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has published several books about economic and institutional change. Another topic of his research has been how people make decisions being confronted with ideologies.

North attends the University of California, Berkeley and gains his B.A. in 1942, with a triple major in political science, philosophy and economics.

Douglass Cecil North is born in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The family moves several times as a result of his father's business. He attends elementary school in Ottawa, and then a private secondary school.