Economist Esther Duflo wins Clark medal
MIT’s influential poverty researcher heralded as best economist under age 40.MIT economist Esther Duflo PhD ‘99, whose influential research has prompted new ways of fighting poverty around the globe, was named winner today of the John Bates Clark medal. Duflo is the second woman to be given the award, which ranks below only the Nobel Prize in prestige within the economics profession and is considered a reliable indicator of future Nobel consideration (about 40 percent of past recipients have won a Nobel).
Duflo, a 37-year-old native of France, is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT and director of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Her work uses randomized field experiments to identify highly specific programs that can alleviate poverty, ranging from low-cost medical treatments to innovative education programs.
The American Economic Association, which gives the Clark medal to the top economist under age 40, said Duflo had distinguished herself through “definitive contributions” in the field of development economics. “Through her research, mentoring of young scholars, and role in helping to direct the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, she has played a major role in setting a new agenda for the field of development economics, one that focuses on microeconomic issues and relies heavily on large-scale field experiments,” the association said in a statement.
In 2003, Duflo co-founded J-PAL along with one of her mentors and frequent collaborators, Abhijit Banerjee, MIT’s Ford International Professor of Economics, as well as economist Sendhil Mullainathan, now of Harvard. While Duflo’s own work has often focused on fieldwork in India and Kenya, J-PAL supports research in dozens of countries, and aims to implement programs along with both governments and non-governmental organizations.
The Clark medal is one of several prizes Duflo has been awarded recently. In 2009, she received a MacArthur Fellowship; was the first recipient of the Calvó Armengol International Prize from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics; became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and delivered a lecture series at the College de France in Paris, having been named that institution's first holder of its "Knowledge Against Poverty" chair. J-PAL as a whole claimed a major new international prize in January 2009, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the category of Development Cooperation.
MIT economist Paul Samuelson was given the first Clark medal, in 1947, while MIT graduate Emmanuel Saez PhD ’99 was awarded last year’s prize. The most recent MIT faculty member to win the medal, before Duflo, was Daron Acemoglu, in 2005. Prior to 2010, the Clark medal had only been awarded in odd-numbered years; now it is given annually.
Written by: Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office