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Nobel Prize laureates are an extraordinary group of people. They are the best among the best. They have changed the field and made ground-breaking contributions to it. They have influenced hundreds of students directly, and millions indirectly.
This post is specifically about the Nobel Prize laureates in economics.
So, first of all, where do they come from? Well, mostly from the USA, and specifically from the “usual suspects” of the institutions:
No surprises here. Now that we sorted this out, let’s have a look at the basic demographics of the laureates. Specifically, how old were they when a telephone ring woke them up in the middle of the night? On average, 67 years old. The youngest laureate is Esther Duflo, who was awarded the Prize at the age of 47. The oldest laureate was Leonid Hurwicz, who received the award at the age of 90.
The top panel of the following graph illustrates the time series and distribution of age at the time of the award. There is no apparent trend in the age. There is a trend in the number of recipients per year. Until the 1990s, only one and at most two laureates were selected each year. Afterward, and especially in recent years, the award has been commonly shared among two or three laureates each year.
The lower panel of the foregoing graph presents the number of children of the laureates. Having two children is rather common. Indeed, the average number of children is 2.1. Only 15 laureates had no children.* More than a third of the laureates had three or more children. Paul Samuelson had six.
So, on average, having kids doesn’t seem to have impacted the Nobel Prize winners to make Nobel-worthy contributions to the field. Of course, there are many possible (obvious) explanations for this. And the present post doesn’t investigate or address any of it. Is it, therefore, useless? I think not. This shows that one doesn’t have to sacrifice having family/kids to be super successful professionally. This doesn’t mean that some haven’t done so. Going through the laureates’ biographies, it quickly becomes obvious that their professional lifestyle had taken a toll on personal relationships, which quite often appears to have manifested in multiple marriages.
Reaching “Mount Olympus” is difficult. Many deserving economists fail to do so. Some simply because they don’t live long enough. But how long do the laureates get to enjoy this ultimate fame? Based on the subset of laureates who passed away, about 16 years, on average. The range is wide, however. Leonid Hurwicz lived only a few more months after receiving the Prize. On the other end of the distribution, Kenneth Arrow’s tenure as the Nobel Prize laureate lasted almost half a century.
Nobel Prize laureates live long lives, apparently. The average age, of those who passed away, is 86 years. Quite a few lived past 90 years. Roland Coase is the only laureate, thus far, who lived more than one century.
*It was extremely difficult to find out much about the personal lives of the laureates. In most—but not all—instances I was able to retrieve the information from various online sources. When failed to do so, I assumed that there were no children present. This is to say, these data are prone to measurement error, even though I tried my best to minimize it.
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