Lew Goldberg was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 28, 1932. His early education took place at the Bret Harte elementary school in Chicago, and the Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Illinois. In 1953 Goldberg received an A.B. in social relations from Harvard University. He earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1958 where his Ph.D. advisor was E. Lowell Kelly; Kelly provided Goldberg with training in the methodology of quantitative personality assessment.
As an advanced graduate student at Michigan, Goldberg met Warren T. Norman, a new assistant professor, who became a lifelong friend and collaborator on issues in personality structure and assessment. Their initial work together on the generality of the Big 5, and their subsequent work on the lexical hypothesis has had a major impact upon the development of a consensual model of personality. After receiving his doctorate, Goldberg became a visiting assistant professor at Stanford University. Since 1960 he has taught at the University of Oregon, where he is professor emeritus. He is a senior scientist at the Oregon Research Institute, where he has carried out research since 1961.
From 1962 to 1966, Goldberg served as a field selection officer for the United States Peace Corps. In 1966 he became a Fulbright professor at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. In 1970 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1974 he was a Fulbright professor again, at Istanbul University in Turkey. From 1980 to 1986 he served as a consultant in the Intelligence Division of the United States Secret Service. He was a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study from 1981 to 1982.
Goldberg has published more than 100 research articles. He has also earned three lifetime achievement awards: the Jack Block Award for outstanding contributions to personality research from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) (2006), the Saul Sells Award for outstanding contributions to multivariate research from the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology (SMEP) (2006), and most recently the Bruno Klopfer Award for outstanding contributions to personality assessment from the Society for Personality Assessment (SPA) (2009).