Biography of Esther Duflo


Esther Duflo born on 25 October 1972 is a French–American Economist, Nobel Laureate, a Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and co-founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Her area of specialty is in development economics, specifically in the areas of Health, Education, Financial Inclusion, and the Adoption of New Technologies. Currently, she is the youngest, and the 2nd female to receive the Nobel prize in the economic sciences.

Esther Duflo is a household name in the economics profession, particularly in Development Economics and Random Control Trials. She has risen to such prominence and expertise that it’s impossible to talk about Development Economics and RCTs without mentioning her name.

She has authored and co-authored mostly working with Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer, more than a hundred and fifty research publications, including journal articles, books, book chapters, and policy articles.

Some of her notable works include; Good Economics for Hard Times (2019); Women empowerment and economic development (2012); The economic lives of the poor (2007); Inequality and growth: What can the data say? (2003); Nudging farmers to use fertilizer: Theory and experimental evidence from Kenya (2011); Female leadership raises aspirations and educational attainment for girls: A policy experiment in India (2012).

In the area of children’s health, in her work; Grandmothers and Granddaughters: Old Age Pension and Intra-household Allocation in South Africa (2003). Esther Duflo tested the hypothesis that the impact of cash transfer on a child’s nutritional status is affected by the gender of its recipient. Results from this study suggest that pension received by women had large effects on the anthropometric status of girls, but no significant effect was seen in boys.

In the area of financial inclusion, Esther Duflo studied the impact of Microfinance in her work “the Miracle of Microfinance”. The study discovered that microcredit access has a heterogeneous effect on households. Specifically, the was an increase in expenditure on durable goods and new business creation in treated groups.

Her groundbreaking research and immense contributions to the economics discipline has received several honors and recognition around the globe. In 2019, Esther Duflo together with Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer were awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics (Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) for their innovative experimental approach to alleviating poverty. Esther Duflo has also been honored with 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).

Esther Duflo is not only committed to showing what works, but also what doesn’t work. For example, a random control trial she conducted in India where participants were given microcredits led to no significant changes in health, education, or women’s empowerment. Her work in Kenya also revealed that giving condoms to people did not reduce their risk of HIV. Lastly, her work on a monitoring system for health workers in India had become completely inefficient after 18 months.

Additionally, Esther Duflo is the co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). J-PAL is a global research center working to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence. J-PAL conducts randomized impact evaluations to answer critical questions in the fight against poverty. J-PAL collaborates with governments, NGOs, and international organizations to develop proven expanded programs and aims to create a “culture of demanding evidence” to support policy in the developing world. J-PAL currently has offices in five continents of the world, precisely, J-PAL Europe (Paris, France), J-PAL South Asia (Chennai, India), J-PAL Latin America and the Caribbean, (Santiago, Chile), J-PAL Africa Cape Town, (South Africa), J-PAL Southeast Asia Jakarta, Indonesia, and J-PAL North America (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

She also serves as a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The NBER is a private, nonpartisan organization that facilitates cutting-edge investigation and analysis of major economic issues. She is affiliated with similar organizations such as BREAD and CEPR, where she holds a seat at the board and is a director respectively. She is currently the founding editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. She also holds editorial positions at journals such as the Annual Review of Economics and Journal of Development Economics.

Esther Duflo spent almost her entire teaching career at MIT. After earning her Ph.D. in 1991, she became an assistant professor at MIT. In 2002, she was promoted to associate professor, and in 2005 she was appointed the Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics. She also spend a short period at Princeton University which came about in 2001 to 2002

Esther Duflo holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a Master’s degree in Economics, and a bachelor’s degree in History and Economics from the École normale supérieure in Paris. History was Esther Duflo’s childhood passion which compelled her to pursue it at the undergraduate level. By the 2nd year of her studies, she began considering Politics or the Civil Services as career options.

Esther took a year off from her studies and traveled to Moscow for 10 months where she taught French and worked as a research assistant for a French economist who was working at the Central Bank of Russia. During her stay in Moscow, she also interned with Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist, who was advising the Russian Minister of Finance at the time. These research positions had such an impact on her that she concluded that “economics had potential as a lever of action in the world” and she could satisfy academic ambitions while doing “things that mattered”.

Among other things, Esther Duflo also manages her own column for a French daily newspaper titled, ‘Libération’.

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