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Elinor Ostrom, 1st woman to get Nobel economics prize

Dr. Ostrom received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences from Sweden's King Carl Gustaf in Stockholm.Peter Andrews/REUTERS/file

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Elinor Ostrom, an Indiana University professor of political science and the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in economics, died Tuesday at age 78.

Dr. Ostrom died of cancer at IU Health Bloomington Hospital, university spokesman Steve ­Hinnefeld said.

She shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for economics with Oliver Williamson of the University of California, Berkeley. They were honored for analyzing the rules by which people exercise authority in companies and economic systems.

Dr. Ostrom had been an Indiana University faculty member since 1965.

Through her research, Ms. Ostrom demonstrated how common resources — forests, fisheries, oil fields, or grazing lands — can be managed successfully by the people who use them, rather than by governments or private companies.


‘‘What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement of the people involved, versus just having somebody in Washington . . . make a rule,’’ Dr. Ostrom said the day her Nobel Prize was announced.

The university said Dr. Ostrom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2011. Nonetheless, following her diagnosis she traveled to India and Mexico and taught a graduate seminar, the university said.

Ms. Ostrom was born and grew up in Los Angeles, and she studied at UCLA, where she earned bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees in political science.

She moved to Indiana when her husband, Vincent Ostrom, was hired for the political science faculty. She was first hired by the university, she said, because the political science department needed someone to teach a 7:30 a.m. class.