Esther Duflo (French: [dyflo]; born 25 October 1972) is a French economist, Co-Founder and Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), and Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Duflo is an NBER Research Associate, serves on the board of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), and is Director of the Center for Economic and 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.
Duflo was born in 1972 in Paris. Her father was a mathematics professor and her mother was a doctor. At age 8, she decided to become a historian.
After studying in Lycée Henri-IV's "classes préparatoires BL", Duflo entered her undergraduate studies at École Normale Supérieure in Paris to study history. In her second year at university, she questioned her future as a professor and 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 told 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 then connected to the Bank of Russia and, separately, for Jeffrey Sachs , the American economist at Harvard advising the Minister of Finance. The research posts helped 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 she received a master's degree from DELTA, now the Paris School of Economics, jointly with École Normale Supérieure in 1995, and completed a PhD in economics at MIT in 1999, under joint supervision of Abhijit Banerjee and Joshua Angrist. Upon completing her PhD, she was appointed assistant professor of economics at MIT and has been at MIT ever since, aside from being on leave to Princeton University in 2001–2002. She was promoted to associate professor (with tenure) in 2002, at 29, making her among the youngest faculty to be awarded tenure.
Her PhD dissertation focused on effects of a natural experiment from data of an Indonesian school-expansion program of the 1970s to provide the first conclusive evidence that in a developing country, more education resulted in higher wages.
In 2003, she co-founded Poverty Action Lab at MIT, which has since conducted over 200 empirical development experiments and train development practitioners in running randomized controlled trials.
She won the 2014 Infosys Prize in Social Science-Economics.
She is a recipient of the 2010 John Bates Clark Medal for economists under 40 made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge. She received her (first) honorary doctorate from the Université catholique de Louvain, on 2 February 2010.
In 2009 she was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, otherwise known as a "genius" grant. She is also a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 2009. On 21 May 2009 she was selected as the first recipient of the Calvó-Armengol International Prize, which she finally received on 4 June 2010. That is awarded every two years to a top young researcher in economics or the social sciences for contributions to the theory and comprehension of the mechanisms of social interaction.
The US magazine Foreign Policy named her as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world in May 2008. In 2010, Foreign Policy again named her to its list of top 100 global thinkers. The Economist lists Duflo as one of the top 8 young economists in the world. She was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in April 2011.
In 2005, Le Monde, Cercle des économistes awarded her the Best Young French Economist prize. She was awarded the Elaine Bennett Research Prize by the American Economic Association in 2002. That honours a female economist under 40 who has made outstanding contributions in any field of economic research.
In 2012, Duflo was picked by Foreign Policy magazine as one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers.
She received the 2015 Princess of Asturias Social Sciences award in Spain.
Other professional activities
She was the founding editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics and is 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 is currently a co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, and she writes a monthly column for Libération, a French daily.
She was the main speaker at the first Bocconi Lecture of Bocconi University in 2010, followed in 2011 by Caroline Hoxby.
In April 2011, she released her latest 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 a very positive acclaim. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen called it "a marvelously insightful book by the two outstanding researchers on the real nature of poverty."