Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences awarded for research into alleviating poverty | News | DW | 14.10.2019
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Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences awarded for research into alleviating poverty

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has announced the final Nobel winners of the 2019 awards season. And for only the second time in history, a woman is among the laureates.

Watch video 02:07

Nobel goes to trio of poverty researchers

Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer have jointly won the 51st Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm announced Monday.

The trio were awarded the prize "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty," by focusing on other related issues like education or child health. Banerjee and Duflo, who are also married, are at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kremer is at Harvard University.

Kremer used field experiments in the 1990s to test how a range of interventions could improve academic results in schools in western Kenya. Banerjee and Duflo went on to perform similar experiments in India, often working with Kremer. 

The prize comes with an award of 9 million Swedish crowns (€830,000; $914,000), a gold medal and a diploma.

Last year, the prize was awarded to Americans William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer for their work integrating climate change and technological innovation into long-term economic theory.

Another woman in the mix

Now in its 51st year, 84 individuals have received the award. Household names who have won the prize include Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz.

Three-quarters of winners over the past two decades have been white American males over the age of 55. Duflo is only the second woman to ever be given the award for economic sciences. At 46, she is also now the youngest winner ever.

"Showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed and be recognized for success I hope is going to inspire many, many other women to continue working and many other men to give them the respect that they deserve like every single human being," she said.

The first woman to win the prize was Elinor Ostrom in 2009.

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Different from the other prizes

The Nobel awards for chemistry, physics and medicine, which inventor and founder Alfred Nobel established in his final will upon his death in 1895, have been handed out since 1901. The award for economic sciences was first presented in 1969 and is officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Sveriges Riksbank is Sweden's central bank. On their 300th anniversary in 1968 they donated money to the Nobel Foundation to create this new award in Alfred Nobel's honor. At the time some were skeptical of a bank creating an award to bolster its own industry, especially since economics is not a hard science like chemistry with undisputable rules. Economists usually study human behavior, which can be a shaky basis for any science and one that often changes over time.

Hayek, the 1974 winner, was a critic for another reason. In his acceptance speech he said that he would have "decidedly advised against it" since such an award "confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess."

To avoid winners being called upon to make predictions on all parts of the economy and society in general, Hayek suggested that they should take an oath "never to exceed in public pronouncements the limits of their competence."

A long process

Finding the winner is a long process. A year ahead of time, nomination forms are sent to around 3,000 people, among them past winners, members of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and select professors. They in turn nominate between 250 and 350 candidates. After that a committee cuts down the list, consults with experts and offers its final recommendations to the academy who later vote. 

The prize for economics wraps up this year's Nobel awards season, notable for the awarding of two prizes for literature after a sexual harassment scandal caused the 2018 award to be postponed. 

The Nobel awards, including the Prize in Economic Sciences, will be handed out on December 10, the anniversary of their founder's death, in Stockholm, Sweden. The Nobel Peace Prize will be handed over in Oslo, Norway.

tr, kp/rt (AP, AFP, dpa)

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