Esther has also collaborated with many of the world’s leading economists. Her work mostly encompasses microeconomics, especially in many developing countries all over the world, which focuses on how the common household puts their limited resources into more practical use. Esther has been going around the world and conducting research regarding such issues, looking for ways to subvert these conditions for the benefit of those affected.
Esther Duflo’s Early Life
Born in 1972 to well-to-do parents in a less urban part of Paris, Esther had a fairly normal childhood. Like her two siblings, she grew up playing with dolls and other girls of her age. However, even at a very young age, Esther’s desire to make a significant contribution to the world had already become evident.
Esther’s mother, Violaine, worked as a pediatrician and was part of a charitable organization that frequently travelled countries affected by war and took care of child victims. Whenever she would come home from her travels, Violaine would often show picture slides of the poor families and child victims of war to Esther and her siblings. This instilled a sense of social justice in Esther, which would later on inspire her in her work. In one of her interviews, she stated:
"A part of me always wanted to do something significant for the world. It came from my mother. She was a paediatrician and she was active in a small NGO for the child victims of war. She used to travel to countries that had been through war and she would come back and show us slides to make us aware."
Esther first attended the Lycee Henri IV and studied at the school’s “classes preparatoires BL.” Most of her teachers were amazed by her ability to quickly catch up in her studies, which enabled Esther to graduate with high remarks.
Esther then enrolled at the Ecole Normale Superieure, a well-known school in Paris that produces many French politicians and intellectuals. Her time in this school proved to be a bit challenging, as she entered an ‘entirely’ different environment. There was a great concern for the so-called ‘hierarchal’ status. The turning point in her scholastic career came during her fourth year, when she was appointed assistant to the widely-renowned Jeffrey Sachs, a position that Esther likened to a ‘general slave.’
Getting Exposed to Economy
Due to Jeffrey Sachs influence and authority (Jeffrey was serving as an adviser to another famous economist and politician, Yegor Gaidar, who was appointed architect to help the post-communist Russian economy rise back up through his “shock therapy reforms”), Esther became widely exposed to the world of economics.
In an interview, she recalled this particular moment in her life that strengthened her resolve in becoming an economist:
"I immediately realized that, by becoming an economist, I can have the best of both worlds. You can be there but keep your principles intact and say exactly what you think, and go back to your studies if you are rejected. What you are doing is meaningful and pertinent and maybe will change something."
Esther graduated from Ecole Normale Superieure in 1994 and continued to pursue her studies. In 1995, she earned her Master’s degree from the Paris School of Economics (formerly known as DELTA). The same year, Esther went to the United States and enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to acquire her doctorate degree for economics.
Upon entering MIT, Esther was introduced to a totally new environment—it was very different from her experience in France, and she loved it. There was little to no air of superiority or prejudice and everyone was treated equally. In an interview made many years later, Esther recalled this particular moment:
"You arrive from France where you are used to being completely ignored. You come here and people are so non-hierarchical. Here it doesn’t matter that you are a student; that you just came from France yesterday. If you have something to say, if you have an idea, people listen."
Working with Abhijit Banerjee
Esther’s time in MIT further developed her interest in helping people by being an economist. While studying for her doctorate, she was mentored by Abhijit Banerjee and the two immediately took a liking to each other.
Esther completed her studies in 1999 and earned her doctorate degree. Due to her excellent remarks, she was immediately appointed assistant professor of Economics, assisting Abdul Latif Jameel. From that time on, she decided to stay in MIT and work as a professor there.
Esther’s research work at MIT mainly focused on microeconomic issues, which encompassed things, such as education, policy evaluation, household behavior, and access to finance. She collaborated with Abhijit, Michael Kremer, John List, and Sendhil Mullainathan, and conducted thorough research on developing countries to further understand the relationship between causality and economics.
In 2001, Esther took a leave of absence to teach in Princeton University for a year. Upon her return to MIT in 2002, she was immediately promoted to associate professor with tenure. Esther, who was 29 years old at that time, became one of the youngest faculty members at the University to be awarded tenure. That same year, she won the Elaine Bennett Research Prize from the American Economic Association, which was a prize given to honor women under 40 whose work has greatly contributed in the fields of economic research.
Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee Found Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
In 2003, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and invited professors from MIT and other various educational institutions to share their evaluations regarding the issue of poverty alleviation. The organization became a success, gaining numerous followers and becoming one of the leaders in the fight against poverty.
Since its inception, it has grown to have global coverage and has worked with numerous professors and economists around the world in finding ways to combat poverty in their own localities.
One amazing thing about Esther’s viewpoint of poverty is that it isn’t in places, such as refugee camps or war zones; it is in our very localities, the ordinary people who are trying to make it through the day. She conducts research on how a person’s lifestyle and behavior significantly affect his/her economic status and she finds ways to correct certain behaviors that cause people to stay poor.
Aside from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Esther also actively participates in other programs that are designed to alleviate poverty. She has been on the board of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development, a government-funded organization that conducts research to find the best ways to help developing nations succeed in their goal to fight poverty.
Esther also serves as the director of the Development Economics Program of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Under her leadership, the program has successfully created several policies that greatly helped many developing nations in improving the lives of the poor in their country.
Esther also writes and serves as editor for several published articles and journals, such as the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, the Journal of Development Economics, and the Review of Economics and Statistics. She also contributes articles to the French newspaper Liberation.
Due to her contributions in the fields of economic research, Esther has received numerous awards and honors. In 2005, she was named the “Best Young French Economist” by the Le Monde, Cercle des economistes.
In 2009, she became a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which for her age was an incredible feat. That same year, she also won the Calvo-Armengol International Prize, which was an award given every two years to a young economic or social science researcher whose theoretical contributions and comprehension of social interaction mechanisms have significantly affected their fields of study.
In 2010, Esther was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal for her significant contribution to the study of economics. That same year, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Universite catholique de Louvain in Belgium, and became the main speaker for the very first Bocconi Lecture.
Esther Duflo at TED: Ideas Worth Spreading
TED releases "ideas worth spreading" regularly and Esther Duflo's was featured February 2010. To watch her talk, you may visit TED website. TED says of Esther, "Alleviating poverty is more guesswork than science, and lack of data on aid's impact raises questions about how to provide it. But Clark Medal-winner Esther Duflo says it's possible to know which development efforts help and which hurt -- by testing solutions with randomized trials."
Esther Co-authors a Book with Abhijit
In 2011, Esther and Abhijit wrote and published their book entitled “Poor Economics,” which documented the 15 years of their research and trials that were designed to facilitate poverty. The book was well-received both critically and financially and became a bestseller. According to Amartya Sen, a Nobel Laureate, “Poor Economics” was “a marvelously insightful book by the two outstanding researchers on the real nature of poverty.”
Esther Gives Birth to a Baby Girl
Esther has recently given birth to her first child in 2012. She and her partner, Abhijit, have been colleagues since they first met in MIT and through their years of working together, developed a relationship that led them to being partners.
When she was asked in an interview if she wanted to go back to France, she stated that while she liked to, she would stay in the United States because she wanted her child to be an American, just like his father, who she says might not want to go to France because he could not speak French.
More recently, President Barack Obama of the United States announced his intentions to appoint Esther to be part of the President’s Global Development Council. Her outstanding work in developing methods to fight poverty has greatly helped many organizations worldwide in alleviating poverty in their own localities. Esther’s amazing passion for and dedication to improving the lives of the poor are truly extraordinary.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab
- Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development
- Center for Economic and Policy Research
Awards and Achievements
- 2003: Won the Elaine Bennett Prize for Research from the American Economic Association
- 2005: Won the Best French Young Economic Prize
- 2008: Included in the Top 100 Public Intellectuals in the World by Foreign Policy Magazine
- 2009: Won the Calvo-Armengol International Prize
- 2009: Became a Fellow at the MacArthur Foundation
- 2009: Became a Fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 2010: Awarded the John Bates Clark Medal
- 2010: Included in the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine
- 2011: Awarded the CNRS Medaille de L’Innovation
- 2011: Received the David N. Kershaw Award
- 2011: Included in the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine
- 2010: Honorary Doctorate from the Universite Catholique de Louvain