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Nobel surprises keep coming: First woman wins economics prize

American Elinor Ostrom's honor begs the question: When will there be no more "firsts"?

by Dory Devlin  |  1271 views  |  0 comments  |      Rate this now! 

While the world still debates whether President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was handed out prematurely, a curious thing happened: An American woman became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for economics.

You'd think, certainly hope, that we've come to a point in time when hearing the first woman this and the first woman that had just about run its course. This isn't true, of course. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who had a good shot at becoming the first woman U.S. president before the Obama campaign took off in a big way. Still, when the Nobel prize for economics was announced today and we learned that Elinor Ostrom, an Indiana University political science professor, became the first woman to win the economics prize, it was kind of surprising that she was the first woman to win it, no?

Ostrom, 76, said she definitely won't be the last. But she also said she was discouraged by many from getting her Ph.D. in economics, though she was not dissuaded because she loved studying economics. (She also recalled being told she couldn't take trigonometry in high school because she was a girl.) Ostrom shares the prize with fellow American Oliver Williamson. Both were singled out for their work analyzing economic governance — the rules by which people exercise authority in companies and economic systems, the AP reports. Ostrom's research delved into how common resources — forests, fisheries, oil fields or grazing lands — can be managed well by the people who use them, instead of by governments or private companies.

Driving back from the vet's office today, I heard Ostrom on NPR's "All Things Considered" say why she thinks it's taken so long for a woman to earn the top economics prize. "I think in many of the sciences, especially in the social sciences, it has been only recently that women were full professors, getting grants, doing research. It doesn't say anything about their abilities, it's whether the opportunities were there. And now, slowly but surely, opportunities are being made available, and women are doing great."

Ostrom is the fifth woman to win a Nobel prize this year--a record--so that's another first.

Are there "firsts" for women that have surprised you lately, or "firsts" yet to come that you really want to see happen?

About the Author

Dory Devlin is the Work+Money editor on Yahoo! Shine. Check out Shine Work+Money here.

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