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October 16, 2009

Women in Economics

By Cindy Ivanac-Lillig

As many of you may have noticed, there are not many prominent women in the field of economics. That changed this past weekend as the folks in Oslo awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to an American woman, Elinor Ostrom. Her work is primarily in development economics (for those of you who know me – know that I was very excited about this). Her research focuses on shared/pooled ownership as an alternative to public (government) and/or private ownership. She writes extensively on pooled ownership’s effects on the environment, incentives, and public policy.

There is a good article in this week’s WSJ, A Nobel for Practical Economics, detailing her work. The only thing that I am a bit leary about is that this award is being touted as the first given for work that was done studying human behavior versus mathematical models. Don’t get me wrong -- I do actually think that this is a good thing. I know some of you might shudder, but human group behavior is extremely difficult to model. Peer pressure, mutually reinforcing incentives, social capital, etc. are very difficult to model and yet necessary in analyzing how these ownership structures work.

I just hope Ostrom’s work will not be discounted by the computer-modeled economist of our day. I think the two groups – number crunchers and social scientists -- could probably do some great things by working together in the future.

Let me also say that I am confident that there are women attached to their statistical analysis software that will win this award in the future as well.

Congrats to Ms. Ostrom and Mr. Williamson, with whom she shares this prestigious honor. One of her most notable works, Governing the Commons, can be previewed here.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Posted by Cindy at October 16, 2009 4:29 PM

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