Elinor Ostrom, who died on 12 June aged 78, was an Indiana University professor of political science who became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics. Ostrom shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for economics with Oliver Williamson from the University of California, Berkeley. They were honoured for analysing the rules by which people exercise authority in companies and economic systems.
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," Ostrom said when her Nobel was announced.
She said some people had discouraged her from seeking a doctoral degree when she applied for graduate school, but that she loved studying economics. She was born and grew up in Los Angeles, and studied at UCLA. She graduated in three years then worked in the private sector before entering graduate school and receiving master's and doctoral degrees in political science from UCLA.
She is survived by her husband, Vincent Ostrom, a political science professor with whom she founded Indiana University's Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. She moved to Indiana when her husband was hired for the political science faculty. She was at first hired herself, she said, because the political science department needed someone to teach a 7.30am class.