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Nobel in economics awarded to 3 based in U.S. for work on alleviating global poverty

The Nobel in economics has been awarded to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, all based in the U.S., "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty."

Award to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer announced Monday

French economist Esther Duflo, shown in 2015, alongside Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer won the Nobel in economics on Monday for their work in alleviating global poverty. Duflo, at 46, is the youngest-ever economics winner. (Eloy Alonso/Reuters)

The Nobel prize in economics has been awarded to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty."

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the three recipients, who each received a PhD in the U.S., on Monday. Here's some of their background:

  • Banerjee, 58, was born in 1961 in Mumbai, and later attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
  • Duflo, 46, was born in Paris and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she's the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics. Married to Banerjee, they are the sixth Nobel-awarded couple.
  • Kremer, 54, was born in the United States and earned his doctorate from Harvard University in 1992, where he is currently the Gates Professor of Developing Societies.

Millions benefit from winners' work, academy says

"Despite recent dramatic improvements, one of humanity's most urgent issues is the reduction of global poverty, in all its forms," a news release from the academy says. "More than 700 million people still subsist on extremely low incomes. Every year, around five million children under the age of five still die of diseases that could often have been prevented or cured with inexpensive treatments. Half of the world's children still leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills.

"This year's laureates have introduced a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty. 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."

They said Kremer showed the power of that approach in the mid-1990s in field work in Kenya.

In India, Banerjee and Duflo's research centre, the Poverty Action Lab, devised a system reorganizing public school systems by learning level rather than age or grade. The academy says that, as a direct result, five million children benefited from remedial tutoring in schools.

The prize — officially known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel — wasn't created by the prize founder, but is considered to be part of the Nobel stable of awards.

It was created by Riksbanken, the Swedish central bank, in 1968, and the first winner was selected a year later.

Academy members Jakob Svensson, right, Goran K Hansson, centre, and Peter Fredriksson announce the winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics during a news conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden. (Karin Wesslen/TT News Agency/The Associated Press)

Banerjee's mother, Nirmala Banerjee, also an economist, told news channel NDTV in India that the prize was unexpected.

"He has been trying to get economics away from the theoretical part, but using theory to understand the world as it is," she said from her home in Kolkata. "The way it works, the way poverty is, the way people handle poverty."

Banerjee this year advised India's opposition party, the Congress, ahead of national elections in May about offering financial aid to the poor. He has also criticized the Modi government about alleged political interference in statistical data and over a program to take cash out of the economy.

There was no immediate comment from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.

Duflo, the youngest-ever laureate in economic sciences, and American political economist Elinor Ostrom, in 2009, are the only women ever to win the economics prize. 

Duflo said the profession is not always a welcoming one for women.

"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.

Duflo, Banerjee and Kremer will share the 2019 prize of 9 million krona (about $1.2 million Cdn).