Esther Duflo: The Trailblazing Economist Who is Changing the Face of Poverty Alleviation


Esther Duflo, a French-American economist, has devoted her career to the study of economics and poverty. Known for her innovative approaches, her work has helped to revolutionize the field of economic development by providing new insights into the causes and consequences of poverty. She is currently the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT and a co-founder of The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research center dedicated to reducing poverty by ensuring that policy decisions are informed by scientific evidence.

Early Life and Education

Esther Duflo was born in Paris, France in 1972. Her parents were both professors of mathematics, and they instilled in her a love of learning and a passion for mathematics and science. She attended the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in economics from the Paris School of Economics.

Duflo’s interest in economics and poverty was sparked after a trip to Russia in the early 1990s, where she witnessed firsthand the economic and social upheaval that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This experience inspired her to pursue a career in economics and poverty research.

Research Career and Contributions

After completing her master’s degree, Duflo went on to earn her Ph.D. in economics from MIT in 1999. Her dissertation focused on the impact of education on economic development in Kenya, and her research showed that reducing class sizes in primary schools could improve student achievement and could be done relatively inexpensively.

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Duflo’s research has been instrumental in developing programs and policies aimed at reducing poverty in developing countries. She has been particularly influential in the area of microfinance, which involves providing small loans to entrepreneurs and farmers to help them build their businesses. Duflo’s research has shown that microfinance is an effective way to alleviate poverty, but that it is not a panacea and needs to be implemented in a way that is sustainable and effective.

Duflo has also studied the impact of health care on poverty and economic development. Her research has shown that access to basic health care, such as vaccinations and deworming medication, can have a profound impact on the health and economic well-being of people in developing countries. As a result, policymakers have increasingly focused on improving access to basic health care as a means of reducing poverty.

In addition to her research, Duflo has been an influential advocate for evidence-based policy making. She has worked to promote the use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as a way to rigorously test the effectiveness of development programs and policies. RCTs involve randomly assigning participants to either receive a program or policy intervention or to serve as a control group, which allows researchers to measure the impact of the intervention more accurately.

Recognition and Awards

Duflo’s groundbreaking work has earned her numerous accolades and awards. In 2019, she was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences along with her colleagues Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” She was the youngest economist and only the second woman to receive the award.

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Duflo has also received numerous other awards and honors for her work, including being named a MacArthur Fellow in 2009, and receiving the John Bates Clark Medal in 2010, which is awarded to the most promising economist under the age of 40. She was also named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2011.

Personal Life and Philanthropy

Duflo is married to fellow economist Abhijit Banerjee, and the couple has two children. They have collaborated on numerous research projects and co-authored several books, including the best-selling Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty.

In addition to her research and advocacy work, Duflo is also involved in philanthropy. In 2019, she and her husband donated half of their Nobel Prize money to help empower women in developing countries through education and healthcare initiatives.


Esther Duflo’s work has helped to change the way that economists and policymakers think about poverty alleviation. Her innovative approaches and rigorous research have provided new insights into the causes and consequences of poverty, and her advocacy for evidence-based policy making has helped to ensure that development programs and policies are more effective and sustainable. As one of the most influential economists of her generation, Duflo’s legacy is sure to endure for years to come.

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