Princeton’s latest Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton says he first thought it was a prank

Princeton University professor Angus Deaton has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics for work on “consumption, poverty and welfare.”

When Princeton University Professor Angus Deaton received a phone call from Sweden at six in the morning on Monday, he thought it might be a prank but he soon realized it wasn’t a joke. 

“There are a huge number of people out there who deserve this. That lightning would strike me seemed like a very small probability event,” Deaton said in a statement released by the university Monday.  

Deaton took a new approach to analyzing consumption by not simply focusing on aggregate figures, or an economy’s big picture data, but on individual households. Most recently, Deaton used household surveys to research trends behind economic development, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

By analyzing individual cases, Deaton discovered important limitations to recording poverty rates, and also showed how data could be used to analyze other concepts such as the extent of gender discrimination in a family.

“I feel passionately about measurement, about how difficult it is, how much theory and conceptualizing is involved, how much politics is involved,” Deaton said in a press conference at Princeton University on Monday afternoon. He added that economics is taking over a number of fields such as sociology and politics, and that he would like to be known for contributing to this movement.

Deaton said that his original mentor was Cambridge University Professor Richard Stone, who also won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1984.

“[Deaton] is a leader not only in his field but on this campus,” Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said at the press conference. He also noted that Deaton’s 2013 book, “The Great Escape,” is flying off bookshelves. The book presents research on “health, wealth, and the origins of inequality.”

When asked about how his personal background affects how he thinks about poverty and privilege, Deaton said it made him realize that luck plays a very important part in anyone’s life. Deaton only ventured to study economics because of his father.

“It’s just the luck of the draw.”

“No one could spend time with [Deaton] without seeing his passion for measurement,” Princeton University Professor of Economics Janet Currie said at the event. She added that Deaton is “enormously funny, witty, well-read, frighteningly erudite and incredibly good company.”

Deaton thanked Princeton profusely for its generous resources and academic community, and said that he plans on pursuing his current research with as much enthusiasm in the years to come.

Deaton belongs to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School for International Affairs, and has been a faculty member since 1983, according the University’s website. He joins five other full-time Princeton professors who were honored by the award, including Christopher Simms in 2011, Paul Krugman in 2008, Daniel Kahneman in 2002 and John Nash in 1994. Nash was killed in a car crash earlier this year.

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