A scientific approach to reducing poverty’s many harmful
effects via field experiments in schools and other real-world settings has won the
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
Economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both of MIT, and Michael Kremer of Harvard University will receive equal shares of the prize of 9 million Swedish kronor, equivalent to about $900,000.
“Poverty has deep roots, and we use an experimental approach to examine particular aspects of this problem and determine what interventions work,” Duflo said over the phone on October 14 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences news conference in Stockholm announcing the prize.
More than 700 million people globally live in extreme
poverty. Half of the world’s children leave school without basic language or
math skills. Roughly 5 million children under age 5 annually die from diseases that
could have been prevented with inexpensive treatments.
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The three laureates design and test interventions aimed at
specific ways to alleviate poverty’s effects in education, health care and
other areas. Such studies are especially important because policies
intended to fight poverty can often backfire (SN: 3/4/19).
In the mid-1990s, Kremer led a team that tested a range of
interventions aimed at improving learning among students attending schools in
Banerjee and Duflo, often with Kremer, then performed
similar studies in other countries.
One important line of research developed “Teaching
at the Right Level” programs, which enable teachers in low-income,
developing nations to target instruction to students’ learning levels. Teachers
in these programs learn ways to help students from falling behind rather than
forcing them through a one-size-fits-all curriculum for each grade.
A 2011 study led by Duflo, for instance, found that grade 1 test
scores in a Kenyan school increased when teachers divided students into smaller
classes based on their initial learning levels.
Duflo is the second woman to be awarded the economics Nobel. The first was Elinor Ostrom, who won in 2009 for studies of how people in small communities manage shared natural resources. Ostrom died in 2012.
Duflo, who will turn 47 on October 25, is also the youngest
recipient of the prize.