Only woman to receive Nobel Prize in economics dies aged 78
Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics, has died of pancreatic cancer, aged 78.
Ostrom received the award in 2009 for her research analysis on how people can co-operatively manage common resources such as fish stocks, water and forests as well as or better than the government or private owners.
Remarkably, she wasn’t even an economist but a political scientist.
She has also featured in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Born in Los Angeles and educated at the University of California, she graduated in Political Science, and gained a PhD in the husbandry of Los Angeles groundwater resources.
When she graduated in 1965, it was at a time when very few women held advanced degrees let alone “tenured positions”, in the social sciences.
In 1963, she married one of her professors, political theorist Vincent Ostrom and together they taught at the Indiana University for nearly five decades, where she became Professor of Political Science in its College of Arts and Sciences and also professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Ostrom’s most important work took place in the 1960s and 1970s when she challenged the “Tragedy of the Commons” a concept in social science coined by ecologist Garrett Hardin, which describes a situation in which individuals, acting rationally in their own self-interest, deplete a shared limited resource.
Her view was that: “What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement of the people versus just having somebody in Washington … make a rule.”
She argued that individuals and groups could manage their own resources, without the involvement of the government and private owners, the concept of “polycentrism.”
Ostrom wrote many books and articles, including “Governing the Commons” (1990) which was termed “the intellectual field guide” for conservationists involved with small communities.
Her legacy also includes a research centre, the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University that she co- founded with her husband in 1973.
Together, she and her husband donated millions of dollars to Indiana University, including the funds from her Nobel prize.
Ostrom was diagnosed with cancer in October 2011 and died on Tuesday, June 12. She is survived by her husband.