Elinor Ostrom 101: First Woman to Receive Nobel in Economics
Zatrun Published at April 13, 2023

Elinor Ostrom was a highly respected political scientist and economist who made history in 2009 as the first woman to receive the distinguished Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, sharing the honour with economist Oliver Williamson. The recognition was given to Ostrom for her research in economic governance, which centred on the management of finite common-pool resources in communities, known as “commons.”

Her work shed light on the complexity of collective decision-making and the importance of local knowledge and cooperation in maintaining the sustainability of these shared resources. Ostrom’s contributions to the field of economics continue to inspire researchers and policymakers alike. If you interested to learn more about her, check out this informative article on

Who is Elinor Ostrom?

Elinor Ostrom was born on August 7, 1933, in Los Angeles, United States. Elinor pursued political science during her college years and earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, USA in 1965. Two years later, she married her husband, political economist Vincent Ostrom. She passed away at the age of 78 on June 12, 2013, due to pancreatic cancer.

Elinor Ostrom began her academic journey at Indiana University. She steadily climbed the ranks from assistant professor to Professor of Political Science and director of the Workshop in Political Theory. She was affectionately known as “Lin” to her family, friends, and colleagues. Elinor was also the founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University.

Throughout her career, Elinor Ostrom authored numerous books, including “Governing the Commons (1990)”, “Understanding Institutional Diversity (2005)”, and “Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice (2010).” Although Ostrom made significant contributions to the field of political science, her most notable legacy was her award-winning research on how communities can effectively manage common resources. Such as grazing land, forests, and waterways, through collective property rights.

Her Academic Accomplishments

Conventional economic wisdom suggested that communal ownership of resources would inevitably lead to mismanagement, commonly referred to as the “tragedy of the commons.” However, Elinor Ostrom’s research demonstrated that this popular theory, originally put forth by ecologist Garrett Hardin, was flawed. She provided evidence from around the world to show that communities could cooperate to govern common resources and maintain their sustainability for current and future generations.

Hardin believed that common resources should either be owned by the government or divided into privately-owned lots to prevent depletion. In contrast, Ostrom’s studies proved that shared resources could be sustainably managed without central authorities or privatization. Users could establish rules for their use and care that were both economically and environmentally sustainable.

How She Won the Nobel Prize?

Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her research on economic governance and her analysis of the commons. Her work challenged the prevailing notion that communal resources were doomed to mismanagement and depletion and demonstrated that communities could effectively govern their own resources without the need for external intervention.

Ostrom’s research showed that common-pool resources, such as forests, grazing lands, and waterways, could be successfully managed by local communities through the establishment of collective property rights and self-governance mechanisms. This theory countered conventional wisdom that central authority or privatization was the only way to prevent overuse and degradation of these resources.

Her work has been instrumental in shaping modern discourse on governance and environmental sustainability, and has inspired countless researchers and policymakers around the world to explore alternative approaches to managing common resources. Ostrom’s legacy continues to inspire scholars and practitioners in the fields of economics, political science, and environmental studies to this day.

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