Don’t you want to be friends with this lady already? I mean, look at that smile and that sweater!!
As if you needed any more reason to like Elinor, she happens to be the first and only female winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Now, any Nobel award is a big effing deal, but did you know that only 48 women compared to 822 men have received these awards? And Ostrom won in Economics no less? This field has all the patriarchy and bias of mathematics and politics put together. Not a great combo.
It’s been challenging for female economists to be accepted or recognized even today, no less in the ’60s and ’70s. Ostrom was actually denied entry to an Economics PhD program since girls had not been allowed to take certain (required) advanced math courses in high school. So, she had to enter the Political Science department instead. Ouch.
Despite setbacks, she went on to do amazing research on the (get ready for some fancy phrasing) success of small to medium-sized collectives maintaining and sustaining public goods. In less fancy words, she and her team studied how communities across the globe took care of their lake, or farm land, or any other communal resource, aka “the commons”. It is fascinating and says a lot about human beings’ ability to be sustainable, if we try and work together.
Ostrom passed away in 2012. Watch any lecture she’s given and your spirits will be lifted, even if you have no clue what she’s talking about. She has left a bright spot in the economics field not just for those who believe in the power of cooperation and community, but for many women like myself. Heroes come in many forms. Not all are social activists and flag-wavers. Some lead by simply following their path no matter what comes their way.