Nobel Prize in Economics’ 2019 winner Esther Duflo became the youngest (and second) woman to win the award on October 14, and says it is “incredibly humbling.”
Duflo, 46, who hails from MIT, won the prize along with her husband Abhijit Banerje of MIT and Harvard’s Michael Kremer for their work on an experimental approach to alleviate global poverty. The trio’s work explored the causes of poverty and did field experiments to determine how those in poverty respond to education, healthcare, agriculture and other programs. The trio received a 9 million Swedish kronor ($916,000) cash award as part of the prize. The professors’ work has primarily focused on Africa and India.
In comments made at a news conference following her win, Duflo, as only the second woman to win the prize since its inception in 1969 (the first woman to win the prize was Elinor Ostrom in 2009), said she wants to be an inspiration for women in her field.
“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.
Additionally, Duflo told nobelprize.org in a later phone interview that “the profession is starting to realize the climate and the way we treat each other is not conducive for having more women in the profession.” She added that, “it’s how people talk to each other and address each other in seminars, that we need to work on to ensure it’s more respectful and will be more acceptable for women to think they don’t have to play the games of shouting at each other.”
The MIT professor has long worked on challenges related to poverty, and previously won the John Bates Clark Medal in 2010. She was also the recipient of the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship in 2009, and was previously named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40.
“It was incredibly humbling to tell you the truth,” Duflo said during the news conference of winning the Nobel prize. “I didn’t think it was possible to win the Nobel prize in economics before being significantly older than any of the three of us.”
Duflo and her fellow recipients wanted to approach the problem of poverty from a scientific angle, she said. “Often the poor are reduced to caricatures, and often even people that try to help them often do not actually understand what are the deep root of the problems that are addressing the poor,” Duflo said.
The team’s research has already made a big impact. As a result of some of their experiments, 5 million children in India have received remedial tutoring in schools, and some countries have introduced subsidies for preventative healthcare, according to a statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Duflo says their research seeks to “unpack the the problems, one by one, and address them as rigorously and scientifically as possible.”