DEFINITION of Amartya Sen

An internationally renowned economist who is a professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard, and winner of the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his studies of welfare economics. Born in India in 1933, much of Sen's work focuses on improving the plight of the worlds poorest people. He is the author of numerous books on welfare economics, development economics and other subjects.


Born in India in 1933 on a university campus in Bengal, India, Amartya Sen was the son of a chemistry professor and the grandson of a scholar of ancient and medieval India. It could be said that perhaps Sen was a born academic and scholar, but experiences in childhood may have helped shape the direction his scholastic achievement took in addressing economic and social inequality

As a youngster in 1943, Sen was a witness to the Bengali famine where three million died. Another incident that may have shaped him was witnessing an impoverished man with a knife in his back during the partitioning of India in 1947. It is likely that these and other experience helped to shape his scholarship and his many interests into the nature of the human experience and how to make life better for its poorest citizens.  

Sen earned an undergraduate degree from Presidency College at Kalkuta before attending the University of Cambridge for an additional BA, then stayed on there to acquire a Master’s and a PhD in the discipline. A Trinity College fellowship followed, and today, Sen teaches at Harvard but has additional honorary and guest teaching posts in universities across the United States, the United Kingdom, and India.  He has been called “the consciousness of the profession” of economics.

In 1981 he published a seminal book called “Poverty & Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation,” but it was to be the first of many writings that Sen has undertaken in his career.  Since then, Sen has been a noted author of many books on welfare economics, development economics and other subjects.  Additional areas of research include social choice theory, economic measurement, public health, rationality and economic behavior, economic methodology, gender studies, moral and political philosophy, and the economics of peace and war.