Esther Duflo: A Woman Inspiring Women

Esther Duflo was born on October 25, 1972, in Paris, France. Her first degrees were in History and Economics from École Normale Supérieure, Paris. She went on to receive a Ph.D. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999. Duflo is the Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). 

In her research, she seeks to understand the economic lives of the poor and aims to help design and evaluate social policies. Furthermore, her research focuses on microeconomic issues in developing countries including health, education, access to finance, household behavior, and policy evaluation. She became interested in economics while spending a year in Russia at a time when the country was transitioning to capitalism. She was studying history as she watched many economists advise the Russian government during a state of turmoil. She said, “Suddenly it dawned on me that economists have this really wonderful position in life where they can think deeply about issues but when they have something to share, they’ll be in a position to share it with policymakers.” 

The incentivized immunizations she focused on for people experiencing poverty in poor countries like India and Africa have had far-reaching effects, and have become one of the most impactful experiments of her career. 

Esther Duflo has received numerous academic honors and prizes including the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences in 2015, the A.SK Social Science Award in 2015, the Infosys Prize in 2014, the David N. Kershaw Award in 2011, a John Bates Clark Medal in 2010, and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship in 2009. She has also written a book alongside Abhijit Banerjee called, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. It won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011 and has been translated into 17 languages. She is also the Editor of the American Economic Review, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. 

The profession of economics has been notorious for its lack of gender parity. This is the reason why we need more female economists like Esther Duflo. A 2018 American Economic Association survey found that nearly 100 female economists said that a peer or colleague had sexually assaulted them and nearly 200 claimed that they were the victims of attempted assault. Nearly half of the women surveyed said they had avoided speaking at a conference or seminar because of possible harassment or “disrespectful treatment.” 

Seven in ten women said that they felt their colleagues’ work was taken more seriously than their own. There was a grand economics tradition of marginalizing women. Economics textbooks included biased representations of fictional characters and under-represented female business leaders, entrepreneurs, and policymakers. That tradition is still happening; however, strides are being made for women to be represented more fairly in economics. 

This long history of bias, underestimation, and discrimination against women in economics is why Esther Duflo’s prize is a step forward in the right direction. The goal is for other female economists to follow in Duflo’s footsteps. The world most definitely needs more female economists like her. 

Professor Duflo was recently awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2019. She is only the second woman to win the prize since it began in 1969. Also, at age 47, she is the youngest recipient of the prize. Her goal is to inspire 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.” 

Women are the future for economics and have the power to change the world. Her main goal is to inspire women to be influential leaders and prove that female economists can do amazing things.