Alvin E. Roth, cowinner of 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, Did Much of His Prize-Winning Research While a Pitt Professor

Issue Date: 
October 15, 2012

Alvin E. Roth, announced this week as cowinner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in market design, began and completed much of the research on matching and mechanism design—for which he won the Nobel—while he was the first University of Pittsburgh Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Economics, from 1982 to 1998. 

Roth won the prize for work in matching theory and its practical applications in markets, such as how students are matched with schools, how doctors are matched with hospital positions, or how kidney donors are matched with recipients: While still at Pitt, Roth worked with graduate student Utku Unver on a study that led to improvements in the design of the program to match kidney donors with compatible kidney recipients. 

“Roth’s work at Pitt consisted of a series of studies—theoretical, institutional, and experimental—exploring various properties of mechanisms by which people are matched with positions,” explained Lise Vesterlund, the current Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Economics at Pitt.  “Central to Prof. Roth’s work on market design has been the use of theory and laboratory experiments. Under his leadership, the Department of Economics at Pitt became, and is still regarded as being, one of the leaders in experimental economics,” Vesterlund added. 

Vesterlund says Roth’s study of the evolution of the market for medical interns and residents and the algorithms used in matching new physicians to hospital positions led to his involvement in redesigning the mechanism used for such matchings. His work on the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) began in 1995, and the revised version was implemented in 1998. Roth’s subsequent work has involved matching of students to public schools in Boston and New York.  Roth shared the prize with Lloyd Shapley, professor emeritus of economics and mathematics at UCLA.

In announcing the prize on Oct. 15, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said: “Even though these two researchers worked independently of one another, the combination of Shapley’s basic theory and Roth’s empirical investigations, experiments, and practical design has generated a flourishing field of research and improved the performance of many markets. This year’s prize is awarded for an outstanding example of economic engineering.”

While at Pitt, Roth was the recipient of the 1992 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award. He also was a Fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Science and a professor of business administration in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. He is currently the George Gund Professor of Economics at Harvard.