Guido Imbens, a Stanford University professor who was a UCLA faculty member from 1997 to 2001, is one of three winners of the 2021 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences presented half of the economics award to Imbens and Joshua Angrist, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for “their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.” The other half of the prize went to David Card of UC Berkeley “for his empirical contributions to labour economics.”
It is the second Nobel honor for a member of the UCLA community in the past week. On Oct. 4, Ardem Patapoutian, a UCLA alumnus, received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
Today, the prize in economics went to Imbens and his colleagues for work that helped advance understanding of the labor market and demonstrated “what conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments.” It can be difficult to draw conclusions from natural, or “real-life,” experiments because, unlike in clinical experiments, researchers don’t have complete control over who participates.
In a pivotal study published in the mid-1990s, Imbens and Angrist produced a methodology for drawing precise conclusions about cause and effect from such research — for example on the relationship between someone’s income and the number of years they spent in school.
“Professor Imbens’ pioneering work in natural experiments has changed how researchers use data in economics and across the social sciences,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “We’re exceedingly proud to have one of UCLA’s former faculty members recognized for such important work.”
Imbens is the applied econometrics professor and professor of economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he has been a member of the faculty since 2014. In addition to his experience at UCLA, he was a professor at Harvard University (1990–97 and 2006–12) and UC Berkeley (2002–06). He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010.
A textbook he co-authored with Harvard professor Donald Rubin, “Causal Inference for Statistics, Social, and Biomedical Sciences,” was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.
“Guido Imbens is a specialist in econometrics, which can be understood to be a statistical branch of economics. He has made a permanent mark by developing econometric tools of causal analysis,” said Jinyong Hahn, a UCLA professor of economics and chair of the department. “His intellectual generosity to young econometricians is much appreciated by those who followed his footsteps. Today’s award is well-deserved recognition.”
Imbens was born in 1963 in Eindhoven, Netherlands. He graduated from Erasmus University in Rotterdam before earning a master’s degree in economics and econometrics from the University of Hull in England in 1986, and then a master’s (1989) and doctorate (1991) in economics from Brown University.
In a call with journalists after the announcement, Imbens noted that Angrist had been the best man at Imbens’ wedding, and that all three men are good friends.
The prize in economic sciences is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.14 million).
Eight UCLA faculty members have been named Nobel laureates: Willard Libby (chemistry, 1960), Julian Schwinger (physics, 1965), Donald Cram (chemistry, 1987), Paul Boyer (chemistry, 1997), Louis Ignarro (physiology or medicine, 1998), Lloyd Shapley (economics, 2012), J. Fraser Stoddart (chemistry, 2016) and Andrea Ghez (physics, 2020). Stoddart was a Northwestern University faculty member when he received the honor, but much of the work for which he was recognized was conducted at UCLA from 1997 to 2008.
Including Patapoutian, eight UCLA graduates have won Nobel Prizes. Two alumni have won the Nobel in economics: William Sharpe in 1990 and Elinor Ostrom in 2009.