|Education||École normale supérieure, Paris (BA)|
School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (DEA)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD)
|Awards||Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2019)|
Princess of Asturias Awards (Social Sciences, 2015)
Infosys Prize (2014)
John von Neumann Award (2013)
Dan David Prize (2013)
John Bates Clark Medal (2010)
Calvó-Armengol International Prize (2010)
MacArthur Fellowship (2009)
|Institutions||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Doctoral advisor||Abhijit Banerjee|
|Doctoral students||Dean Karlan|
Esther Duflo, FBA (French: [dyflo]; born 25 October 1972) is a French–American economist who is a professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is the co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which was established in 2003. She shared the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer, "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty".
Duflo is a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) research associate, a board member of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), and director of the Centre for Economic Policy Research's development economics program. Her research focuses on microeconomic issues in developing countries, including household behavior, education, access to finance, health, and policy evaluation. Together with Abhijit Banerjee, Dean Karlan, Michael Kremer, John A. List, and Sendhil Mullainathan, she has been a driving force in advancing field experiments as an important methodology to discover causal relationships in economics. Together with Abhijit Banerjee, she wrote Poor Economics  and Good Economics for Hard Times, published in April 2011 and November 2019, respectively. According to the Open Syllabus Project, Duflo is the seventh most frequently cited author on college syllabi for economics courses.
Duflo was born in 1972 in Paris, the daughter of pediatrician Violaine Duflo and mathematics professor Michel Duflo. During Duflo's childhood, her mother often participated in medical humanitarian projects.
After studying in the B/L program of Lycée Henri-IV's Classes préparatoires, Duflo began her undergraduate studies at École normale supérieure in Paris, planning to study history, her interest since childhood. In her second year, she began considering a career in the civil service or politics. She spent ten months in Moscow starting in 1993. She taught French and worked on a history thesis that described how the Soviet Union "had used the big construction sites, like the Stalingrad tractor factory, for propaganda, and how propaganda requirements changed the actual shape of the projects." In Moscow, she also worked as a research assistant for a French economist connected to the Central Bank of Russia and, separately, for Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist, who was advising the Russian Minister of Finance. The experiences at these research posts led her to conclude that "economics had potential as a lever of action in the world" and she could satisfy academic ambitions while doing "things that mattered".
She finished her degree in history and economics at École Normale Supérieure in 1994 and received a master's degree from DELTA, now the Paris School of Economics, jointly with the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) of the Université Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) and the École Normale Supérieure, in 1995. Subsequently, she obtained a PhD degree in economics at MIT in 1999, under the joint supervision of Abhijit Banerjee and Joshua Angrist. Her doctoral dissertation focused on effects of a natural experiment involving an Indonesian school-expansion program in the 1970s, and it provided conclusive evidence that in a developing country, more education resulted in higher wages. Upon completing her doctorate, she was appointed assistant professor of economics at MIT and has been at MIT ever since, aside from a leave at Princeton University in 2001–2002, and at the Paris School of Economics in 2007 and 2017.
After earning her PhD in 1999, Duflo became an assistant professor at MIT. She was promoted to associate professor (with tenure) in 2002, at 29, making her among the youngest faculty members to be awarded tenure, and to full professor in 2003.
Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee have taken a special interest in India since 1997. In 2003, she conducted a trial experiment on teacher absenteeism in 120 schools run by a non-profit group. By encouraging the teachers to photograph themselves with their students each day, she was able to reduce their absenteeism.
In 2003, she co-founded Poverty Action Lab at MIT, which has since conducted over 200 empirical development experiments and trained development practitioners to run randomized controlled trials. The lab has branches in Chennai, India and at the Paris School of Economics. In 2004, together with several colleagues, Duflo conducted another experiment in India. It showed that taped speeches by women were more readily accepted in villages that had experienced women leaders. Duflo became increasingly convinced that communities supporting women candidates could expect economic benefits, but she experienced difficulty in convincing her peers. Focused on assessing developments addressing social welfare, in 2008, she received the Frontier of Knowledge award for development cooperation. Duflo entered the public sphere in 2013, when she sat on the new Global Development Committee, which advised former US President Barack Obama on issues regarding development aid in poor countries.
Duflo is an NBER research associate, a board member of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), and director of the Centre for Economic Policy Research's development economics program, where she serves as both a board member and a director.
She was the founding editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, editor of The American Economic Review, and a co-editor of The Review of Economics and Statistics and the Journal of Development Economics. Also, she is a member of the editorial committee of the Annual Review of Economics and a member of the Human Capital Research Programme within the International Growth Centre.
She writes a monthly column for Libération, a French daily newspaper.
She was the main speaker at the first Bocconi Lecture of Bocconi University in 2010, followed in 2011 by Caroline Hoxby.
In 2020, it was announced that Duflo would become chair of the Fund for Innovation in Development, an organization hosted by the French Development Agency that provides grants to develop and scale interventions for poverty and inequality.
Duflo is married to MIT professor Abhijit Banerjee; the couple have two children. Banerjee was a joint supervisor of Duflo's PhD in economics at MIT in 1999.
In April 2011, Duflo released her book Poor Economics, co-authored with Banerjee. It documents their 15 years of experience in conducting randomized control trials to alleviate poverty. The book has received critical acclaim. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen called it "a marvelously insightful book by the two outstanding researchers on the real nature of poverty."
Duflo has published numerous papers, receiving 6,200 citations in 2017. Most of them have appeared in the top five economic journals.
Esther Duflo was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2019 along with her two co-researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty". Duflo is the youngest person (at age 46) and the second woman to win this award (after Elinor Ostrom in 2009).
The press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted: "Their experimental research methods now entirely dominate development economics." The Nobel committee commented:
Responding by telephone to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Duflo explained that she received the prize "at an extremely opportune and important time" and hoped that it would "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 also revealed that she wanted to use the award as a "megaphone" in her fighting efforts to tackle poverty and to improve children's education.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered his congratulations: "Esther Duflo's magnificent Nobel Prize is a reminder that French economists are currently among the best in the world and shows that research in that field can have concrete impact on human welfare."
Much of the discussion related to the prize shared by Duflo and her co-laureates focused on their influential use of randomized controlled trials in designing their experiments. Summarizing the research approach which she had utilized along with Banerjee and Kremer, Duflo said simply, "Our goal is to make sure that the fight against poverty is based on scientific evidence."
[A]s the years wore on and the results came in, randomized control trials gained acceptance as a key tool in development research. 'They provided a way to objectively check if a project has the benefits it says it is going to have,’ said William Easterly, [another development] economist at New York University . . . .