Michael Rutter was born in the Lebanon to English parents in 1933, coming to England in 1936, but spending the war years of 1940-1944 in the United States. He went to Birmingham University Medical School, graduating in 1955. After postgraduate posts in neurology, pediatrics and cardiology, he undertook training in psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London, qualifying with distinction in 1961 before going to spend a year on a research fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. On his return he joined the Medical Research Council (MRC) Social Psychiatry Unit, remaining until appointed as Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry in London in 1966, subsequently reader and then, in 1973, Professor of Child Psychiatry and Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
From 1984 to 1998 he was Honorary Director of the MRC Child Psychiatry Research Unit and from 1994 to 1998 he was also Honorary Director of the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, both of which he set up at the Institute of Psychiatry. Since 1998 he has held the position of Professor of Developmental Psychopathology. His research has spanned an unusually wide range, including epidemiology, long-term longitudinal studies, investigations of school effectiveness, tests of psychosocial risk mediation and studies of interviewing techniques, as well as quantitative and molecular genetics. His clinical research foci have included autism, neuropsychiatric disorders, depression, antisocial behavior, reading difficulties, deprivation syndromes and hyperkinetic disorder. He has published some 38 books and over 400 scientific papers and chapters.
He was elected to the Royal Society in 1987, was knighted in 1992, and was a founder member of both the Academia Europaea and the Academy of Medical Sciences. He is a foreign member of the US Institute of Medicine, and is currently president of the Society for Research into Child Development. He won the Helmut Horten Foundation prize in 1997, the Castilla del Pino prize in 1995, and the Ruane prize in 2000. He has honorary degrees from the Universities of Leiden, Louvain, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Chicago, Minnesota, Ghent, Jyvaskyla, Warwick and East Anglia.