Giffen was born at Strathaven, Lanarkshire on 21 July 1837, and died of heart failure at Fort Augustus in Scotland on 12 April 1910. Upon leaving school he went on to work as a clerk in a solicitor's office (1850–55) and then in a legal office in Glasgow – attending professional classes at Glasgow University – until 1860 when he began a career in journalism. He moved to London in 1862 and became subeditor of The Globe (1862–6), moved to the Fortnightly Review (1866–8), and then served as assistant editor of The Economist, then edited by Walter bagehot, from (1868–76. He then left journalism to pursue a third career as a civil servant, becoming chief of the statistical department of the Board of Trade (1876–82), assistant secretary to the Board of Trade and then controller-general of Commercial, Labour and Statistics Departments (1882–97). Giffen was instrumental in founding the Labour Department. He retired at the earliest permissible age, partly because of indifferent health. The Times, noting his loss to the field of economic statistics, hailed the benefits of the freedom this would give him to re-engage fully in public debate.
From The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists in Oxford Reference.