PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Guido Imbens, a Stanford University economist who earned his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1991, is one of three recipients of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Monday, Oct. 11, in a live-streamed presentation.
Imbens and colleague Joshua Angrist, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were awarded the prize in recognition of their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships, according to the academy. The pair split the prize with David Card of the University of California, Berkeley, whose empirical contributions to labor economics helped launch a new era of natural experiments across the social sciences.
As a Nobel laureate, Imbens will receive a gold medal, a diploma and $286,250 — a quarter of the $1,145,000 economics prize.
Peter Fredriksson, chair of the Royal Swedish Academy’s economic sciences committee and a professor of economics at Uppsala University, said the three scholars’ work has revealed ways in which natural experiments — that is, experiments that divide people into treatment and control groups naturally, without any scientific intervention — can answer important questions for society.
“Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens have clarified exactly what conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments,” Fredriksson said. “Their framework for estimation, validation and interpretation has been widely adopted in applied work. The combined contributions of the laureates have completely reshaped empirical work in the economic sciences, and therefore our ability to answer causal questions of great importance to us all has improved tremendously.”
In 1996, Imbens and Angrist outlined a highly influential framework for causal inference in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. Their framework has been cited in scientific studies more than 6,000 times, and it has enabled hundreds of experiments exploring causal relationships — such as relationships between income and health, immigration policy and the labor market, and lockdowns and the spread of infection.
Imbens, who spoke on the phone with academy leaders and reporters during the presentation, said he received a phone call with the exciting news while still asleep in California.
“It was a little after 2 in the morning here,” he said. “The whole house was asleep; we’d had a busy weekend. I was just absolutely stunned to get a telephone call, and then I was absolutely thrilled to hear the news.”