STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two American scholars were awarded the Nobel economics prize today for studies on the match-making that takes place when doctors are coupled up with hospitals, students with schools and human organs with transplant recipients.
The work of Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley has sparked a "flourishing field of research" and helped improve the performance of many markets, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
Roth, 60, is a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and Harvard Business School in Boston. Right now he is a visiting professor at Stanford University in California. Shapley, 89, is a professor emeritus at University of California Los Angeles.
Citing "the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design," the award focused on the problem of matching different agents in a market in situations where prices aren't the deciding factor.
Shapley made early theoretical inroads into the subject, using game theory to analyze different matching methods in the 1950s and '60s. Together with U.S. economist David Gale, he developed a mathematical formula for how 10 men and 10 women could be coupled in a way so that no two people would prefer each other over their current partners.
While that may have had little impact on marriages and divorces, the algorithm they developed has been used to better understand many different markets.
In the 1990s, Roth applied it to the market for allocating U.S. student doctors to hospitals. He developed a new algorithm that was adopted by the National Resident Matching Program, which helps match resident doctors with the right hospitals.
He also helped redesign the application process of New York City public high schools, ensuring that fewer students ended up in schools that were not among their top choices.
Similar formulas have been applied to efforts to match kidneys and other human organs to patients needing a transplant, the academy said.
Roth was in California with his wife when he got the call from the prize committee at 3:30 a.m.
"We missed the first call because we were asleep, but we had time to wake up and think that might be what it was," he told The Associated Press. "My wife is going to go out and get us some coffee, and maybe we'll absorb it."
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