In science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, female Nobel Laureates are few. In the history of the Nobel Prize, only 20 women have been named Nobel Laureates in the categories of Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine. Meanwhile, only one woman has ever been named a Nobel Laureate of Economic Sciences. . . until recently.
In October 2019, Esther Duflo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. This makes her the 21st female Nobel Laureate in a STEM discipline in the 118-year history of the Nobel Prize.
The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
According to the Nobel Foundation, Alfred Nobel’s will designated much of his wealth for the establishment of prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. Unlike the rest of the Nobel Prizes, the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was not established by Alfred Nobel. Instead, this prize was established in his memory by Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, and is now awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. While the rest of the Nobel Prizes have been awarded since 1901, the first Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded in 1969.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
In October 2019, the Nobel Foundation announced the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded jointly to three winners: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer. Honored for their work to reduce global poverty, the three are most known for establishing a new experimental research method in development economics, a sub-field of economics.
As the prize announcement explains, Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer have determined that asking more targeted questions about the many factors involved in poverty is more effective in finding solutions than trying to address poverty overall. This is because solutions to poverty as it affects each area of life is different. For example, solutions to poverty in healthcare are different than solutions to poverty in education.
According to the prize announcement, in looking for solutions to poverty in different contexts, the three researchers have worked in locations all over the world, from Kenya to India. Their research has led to initiatives such as remedial tutoring programs and subsidies for preventative health care. For their efforts, they were awarded 9 million Swedish kronor, divided equally among them.
Esther Duflo’s Professional Biography
According to her official biography provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Esther Duflo was born in 1972 in Paris, France. She earned degrees in history and economics from Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris before earning her PhD in economics from MIT in 1999. Currently, she is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT.
Duflo co-founded and co-directs the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), also at MIT. Research sectors at J-PAL include health, education, environment and energy, and government.
Out of this research, she wrote the award-winning book Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty along with Abhijit Banerjee, her husband and one of her Nobel Prize co-winners. They have also written Good Economics for Hard Times, to be published in November 2019.
Along with being a Nobel Laureate, Duflo was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009. She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. Further, she is the editor-in-chief of the American Economic Review.
Esther Duflo up Close
In a 2012 interview with the Financial Times, Duflo explained that her mother, a pediatrician who was active in non-governmental organizations, showed her the importance of social justice. Duflo also noted that as part of her education, she studied abroad in Russia, where she worked on reforming the country’s post-communist economy. She noted that these experiences helped her to recognize her ability to act on principles in the field of economics.
In the interview, Duflo also reflected on life in France as compared to life in the United States. Duflo remarked that she missed the more relaxed approach to life in France, noting that in the United States, there is a lot of pressure to achieve perfection.
In an interview with the media at the time her Nobel Prize was announced, Duflo remarked that as only the second female Nobel Laureate in Economics, she hopes to represent all the women working in the discipline. She noted that the treatment of women in this field has not always been equitable, yet she expressed hope that changes currently occurring in the workplace will cause women to persist and gain the recognition they deserve.