Economist Guido Imbens wins Nobel in economic sciences

Guido W. Imbens shares the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.

By Melissa De Witte

Stanford economist Guido W. Imbens was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences today for his work in econometrics and statistics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which grants the Nobel prizes, has jointly awarded one half of the $10 million Swedish kronor (about $1 million USD) prize, officially known as the “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” to Imbens and Angrist for “their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.” The other half of the prize was awarded to David Card at the University of California, Berkeley, for “his empirical contributions to labour economics.”

Imbens, 58, is the applied econometrics professor and professor of economics at the Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).

Throughout his career, Imbens has conducted influential work to help address the limitations of real-world experiments of social scientists, greatly improving researchers’ ability to assess the effects of interventions from both field and experimental data. His work is used to analyze complicated research questions such as the effectiveness of a new drug on a patient or the impacts of a new regulation on economic activity.

“I was absolutely stunned to get a telephone call,” said Imbens over the telephone with the Royal Swedish Academy of Science during a question and answer session they hosted with the media immediately following the announcement. “I was absolutely thrilled to hear the news, in particular hearing that I got to share this with Josh Angrist and David Card, who are both very good friends of mine.”

Imbens has developed methods for drawing causal inferences in observational studies, using matching, instrumental variables and regression discontinuity designs.

Imbens, together with Angrist, an economist at MIT, pioneered a model called the local average treatment effect (LATE), which they introduced in a 1994 Econometrica paper, called “Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects.” The concept helps researchers better evaluate the causal effects of interventions in observational studies.

The model has had a significant impact on research practices in econometrics and other areas of statistics, with some of Imbens’ papers being placed among the most cited economics research of the 1990s. Imbens summarized some of his work in a 2015 book he co-authored with Donald B. Rubin, called Causal Inference for Statistics, Social, and Biomedical Sciences.

Imbens also works with governments and policy institutions on designing and evaluating economic policy interventions in areas such as education and labor.

Originally from the Netherlands, Imbens attended Erasmus University Rotterdam and the University of Hull in England.

He received his master’s and PhD degrees in economics from Brown University in 1991. He was an assistant professor and later an associate professor at Harvard between 1990 and 1997, and he taught again there from 2006 to 2012, after which he joined the faculty at Stanford University. He was a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1997 to 2001 and at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2002 to 2006. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Gallen.

Imbens is a fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities; the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences; and the American Statistical Association. He is married to Stanford economist Susan Athey, who became the first woman to win the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal in 2007.

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