The Most Prestigious Awards and Honors for Economists

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Not surprisingly, the most prestigious award that a living economist can get is the Nobel Prize in Economics, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Nobel Prize is, in a lot of ways, a lifetime achievement award, despite the fact that it's often awarded to economists well before they retire. Since 2001, the prize itself has been 10 million Swedish kronor, which is equivalent to between $1 million and $2 million, depending on the exchange rate. The Nobel Prize can be split among multiple individuals, and prizes in economics have been shared by up to three people in a given year. (When a prize is shared, it is generally the case that the winners' fields of study share a common theme.) Winners of the Nobel Prize are called "Nobel Laureates," since in ancient Greece laurel wreaths were used as a sign of victory and honor.

Technically speaking, the Nobel Prize in Economics is not a true Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prizes were established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel (upon his death) in the categories of physics, chemistry, literature, medicine and peace. The economics prize is actually named the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel and was established and endowed by Sveriges Riksbank, Sweden's central bank, in 1968 on the bank's 300th anniversary. This distinction is mostly irrelevant from a practical perspective, since the prize amounts and the nomination and selection processes are the same for the Economics prize as for the original Nobel Prizes.

The first Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded in 1969 to the Dutch and Norwegian economists Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch. Many economists have been awarded since then. Only one woman, Elinor Ostrom in 2009, has won a Nobel Prize in Economics.

The most prestigious prize awarded specifically to an American economist (or a least an economist working in the United States at the time) is the John Bates Clark Medal. The John Bates Clark Medal is awarded by the American Economic Association to whom it considers to be the most accomplished and/or promising economist under the age of forty. The first John Bates Clark Medal was awarded in 1947 to Paul Samuelson, and, whereas the medal used to be awarded every other year, it has been awarded in April of every year since 2009.

Because of the age restriction and the prestigious nature of the award, it's only natural that many economists who win the John Bates Clark Medal later go on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. In fact, about 40 percent of John Bates Clark Medal winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, despite the fact that the first Nobel Prize in Economics wasn't awarded until 1969. (Paul Samuelson, the first John Bates Clark Medal recipient, won just the second Nobel Prize in Economics, awarded in 1970.)

One other award that carries a lot of weight in the economics world is the MacArthur Fellowship, better known as a "genius grant." This award is granted by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which announces generally between 20 and 30 recipients each year. 850 winners have been chosen between June 1981 and September 2011, and each winner receives a no-strings-attached fellowship of $500,000, paid out quarterly over a five-year period.

The MacArthur Fellowship is unique in a number of ways. First, the nominating committee seeks out people in a wide variety of fields rather than focusing on a particular area of study or expertise. Second, the fellowship is awarded to individuals who exhibit a capacity to do creative and meaningful work and is thus an investment in future results rather than simply a reward for past achievement. Third, the nominating process is very secretive and winners are unaware that they are even under consideration until they receive a phone call telling them that they've won.

According to the foundation, over a dozen economists (or economics-related social scientists) have won MacArthur Fellowships, beginning with Michael Woodford in the inaugural year. Interestingly, six MacArthur Fellows (as of 2015) - Esther Duflo, Kevin Murphy, Matthew Rabin, Emmanuel Saez, Raj Chetty, and Roland Fryer- have also won the John Bates Clark Medal.

Despite there being significant overlap among the recipients of these three awards, no economist has achieved the "triple crown" of economics yet.

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Beggs, Jodi. "The Most Prestigious Awards and Honors for Economists." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beggs, Jodi. (2020, August 27). The Most Prestigious Awards and Honors for Economists. Retrieved from Beggs, Jodi. "The Most Prestigious Awards and Honors for Economists." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 24, 2021).