Meet Esther Duflo — Youngest Nobel Prize In Economics Winner And Only The Second Woman To Win

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Who is Esther Duflo? New Details On Youngest Nobel Prize In Economics Winner

Esther Duflo is only the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. She is also the youngest person ever to win it. This week, the Swedish Academy announced that Dulfo along with her husband Abhijit Banerjee and their colleague Michael Kremer have jointly won the award for their decades of work on alleviating global poverty.

Duflo, who was born in France, is a professor at MIT and helped found a network of institutes that study problems associated with poverty in an effort to develop solutions from the findings. She is 46 years old.

Who is Esther Duflo? Read on to learn more. 

1. Duflo's early life

Duflo was born in Paris in 1972. She studied history and economics at Paris' Ecole Normale Superieure. She spent time in Moscow teaching French, working as a research assistant for a French economist at the Bank of Russia and for Jeffrey Sachs, the American economist at Harvard who was advising the Minister of Finance. She got her master's degree from the Paris School of Economics and went on to MIT to pursue a Ph.D. One of her dissertation supervisors was Abhijit Banerjee. They fell in love and got married. The two have worked together ever since and he is one of the other people to win the Nobel Prize this year. 

Nobel laureate Esther Duflo.

2. Duflo's academic career

After completing her Ph.D., Duflo was appointed an assistant professor of economics at MIT. She was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2002. She was only 29 at the time, making her among the youngest MIT faculty members to be awarded tenure. Her bio on MIT's website says: "Esther Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). In her research, she seeks to understand the economic lives of the poor, with the aim to help design and evaluate social policies. She has worked on health, education, financial inclusion, environment and governance."

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3. Inspired by pediatrics

Duflo didn't originally plan to go into economics, the New York Times notes. She was studying history instead. Her mother, who is a pediatrician, told her stories about the intense poverty she saw when she was working in places like Madagascar and Duflo was intrigued by the notion of improving conditions. “I came to economics the day I realized there was something called development economics,” Dr. Duflo said. “I didn’t want to do macro, and I didn’t want to do finance.” She hopes that her work and the raised profile of the field of development economics will draw more researchers to the field especially women. 

“Hopefully, it’s onward and forward from now on,” Duflo said. “I think it does reflect the fact that there are not enough women in the economics profession, period.”

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4. Breaking big problems into smaller problems

While combatting global poverty seems like one of humanity's unsolvable problems, Duflo and the other laureates have approached it in an incremental way. Rather than focusing on the entire scope of poverty and trying to remedy it all in one fell swoop, they look at the constituent parts of poverty and see how smaller changes can affect an improved outcome. "This year’s Laureates have introduced a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty," the Nobel Committee writes. "In brief, it involves dividing this issue into smaller, more manageable, questions — for example, the most effective interventions for improving educational outcomes or child health. They have shown that these smaller, more precise, questions are often best answered via carefully designed experiments among the people who are most affected."

“In just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in announcing the prize.

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The award was announced on Monday.

5. Practical solutions to major problems

The New York Times notes that Duflo and her husband and co-winner have put their experimental approach into practice around the world. In 2003 they founded a global network of poverty researchers called the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab or J-PAL. The researchers in the coalition work to identify effective interventions that might help people.  Once they figure out a solution, they join with governments and non-governmental organizations to carry them out. Past studies have resulted in programs to provide tutors to students in India or offer medical treatment for parasites in remote areas. 

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6. Many awards in her past

The Nobel Prize may be the biggest award that Duflo has won but that doesn't mean that she hasn't been noticed for her work before. Her official biography lists the many accolades she has received in her career. "Duflo has received numerous academic honors and prizes including the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences (2015), the A.SK Social Science Award (2015), Infosys Prize (2014), the David N. Kershaw Award (2011), a John Bates Clark Medal (2010), and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship (2009)," the bio notes.  "With Abhijit Banerjee, she wrote Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, which won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011 and has been translated into more than 17 languages."

7. What comes next?

Duflo has no intention of sitting back now that she has won the top award in her profession. The New York Times reports that she and her husband are already planning to use this opportunity to bring more researchers into their area of study. They hope to share their findings of "careful experimentation and its real-world application for solving big problems."

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.