Written by Talent KAS

Related Topics: Awards & Honours, Economics


  • The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (Nobel Prize in Economics), to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”.
  • While Banerjee and Dr. Duflo are both affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Kremer is with Harvard University.
  • Banerjee and Dr. Duflo, who are married to each other, have had a long history of conducting research together, often collaborating with Dr. Kremer as well.
  • The three will equally share the prize money of 9 million Swedish krona (about $916,798 and ₹6.53 crore).

Award Winning Work

  • 2019 Nobel Prize for economics has been given to three economists whose focus has been on framing policies by first measuring the outcomes of alternative interventions on randomly chosen samples from the target population.
  • Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer have all worked on using this method to argue that randomised controlled trials (RCTs) can lead to better poverty reduction interventions.

Work in Education

  • Michael Kremer began using RCTs in the form of experimental field trials in the mid-1990s in rural western Kenya to understand the impact of interventions on learning outcomes.
  • The idea was to understand which interventions – free meals, free textbooks, deworming children or financial incentives for teachers – worked better.
  • A large number of schools were randomly chosen and divided into different groups which were then provided with the different resources.
  • Schools in one group would be given free books, while another group got free meals.
  • Kremer found that free meals and free books did not have any significant impact on learning outcomes.
  • Textbooks had some positive impact but that was limited to the best students.
  • He concluded that the education system in Kenya needed large scale reforms instead of input interventions at the level of individual schools.
  • This was because the curriculum, according to Kremer, focussed excessively on the strongest students.
  • When Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo built on Kremer’s experiments in India, they also found themselves criticising the Indian education system on similar grounds.
  • In the government schools that they conducted their RCTs in, they found that the focus of teachers was on the best students and the incentives to improve the learning outcomes of average students were very few.
  • According to them, the focus in schools is on ‘finishing’ the syllabus.
  • As an outcome of that focus, teachers shy away from techniques that would improve learning outcomes for the average child as this would be a distraction in the way of finishing the syllabus.

Work in Healthcare

  • Some of Kremer’s best-known work is on vaccinations and deworming.
  • During a study on deworming in Kenya, he found that even a very small change in price could have a large effect on demand for deworming pills.
  • Banerjee and Duflo have also worked on vaccinations in India, particularly on how to deal with the absence of staff members at various primary health centres.
  • They conducted an RCT in rural Rajasthan, for instance, which found that when services such as mobile vaccination clinics and primary health centres were more reliable, parents were slightly more likely to get their children immunised.
  • If the reliability also came with a small incentive – such as one meal being provided – parents were far more likely to make sure their children were vaccinated.

[Source: The Hindu, The Print]


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