Economist Professor Sir Tony Atkinson 'pioneered the study of inequality' | University of Oxford
Sir Tony Atkinson
Sir Tony Atkinson

Economist Professor Sir Tony Atkinson 'pioneered the study of inequality'

Sir Tony Atkinson, Professor of Economics and a former Warden of Nuffield College, who died on 1 January 2017, has been called 'the godfather of modern scholarship on the distribution of income and wealth' by fellow economist Thomas Piketty. Sir Andrew Dilnot Warden of Nuffield said he would be remembered for his 'belief that things could be done to improve the world'.

Professor Atkinson was Warden of Nuffield College between 1994 and 2005, and subsequently an Honorary Fellow of the college and Senior Research Fellow at The Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School. His most recent book, Inequality: What Can Be Done, was published by Harvard University Press in March 2015; and in February 2016, he was awarded the Dan David Prize for his work to find solutions to poverty. As Chair of the World Bank's Commission on Global Poverty, he recently completed a report on monitoring global poverty supporting the World Bank Group’s goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.

Professor Atkinson was tipped as a front-runner for a Nobel Prize for Economics on several occasions by news agencies and newspapers although, sadly, this never came to pass. However, he was knighted in 2001 for services to economics and was also awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

His research focused on the economics of income distribution and the measurement of poverty and inequality. The Atkinson index is named after him as a useful measure in determining which end of the distribution contributed most to the observed inequality.

He made massive theoretical progress in how to think about and measure inequality and also, through more than 50 years of research and inspirational teaching, provided huge impetus for a whole field of work in measuring and analysing the distribution of income and wealth. His belief that things could be done to improve the world made spending time with him a delight and a privilege

Sir Andrew Dilnot, economist and Warden of Nuffield College

Warden of Nuffield College, Sir Andrew Dilnot, said: ‘Tony Atkinson’s contribution to economics has been immense. He made massive theoretical progress in how to think about and measure inequality and also, through more than 50 years of research and inspirational teaching, provided huge impetus for a whole field of work in measuring and analysing the distribution of income and wealth. His belief that things could be done to improve the world made spending time with him a delight and a privilege.’

Director of OPHI (Oxford Poverty and Human Developmenet Initiative), Dr Sabina Alkire, added: 'His work led the fields of inequality, income distribution, and poverty for many decades, bringing clarity and practical insight to pressing social issues. We have lost a giant heart and mind.'

Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, said Professor Atkinson was 'a giant of economics' who had carried out groundbreaking work on inequality when it was a deeply unfashionable subject, laying the foundations for the advances and interest in the topic today.  'He was also an outstanding mentor to generations of students and postdocs, and a warm and generous colleague, always available to share his wisdom and insight,' he commented.

Professor Atkinson served on the UK’s Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth, the Pension Law Review Committee, and the Commission on Social Justice. He led the Atkinson Review of Measurement of Government Output and Productivity which reported in 2000, and was a member of the Conseil d’Analyse Economique advising the French Prime Minister, and of the European Statistics Governance Advisory Board.