Alvin E. Roth

For other people named Alvin Roth, see Alvin Roth (disambiguation).
Alvin E. Roth

Alvin E. Roth in Stockholm 2012
Born Alvin Elliot Roth
(1951-12-18) December 18, 1951
New York City
Nationality American
Institution Stanford University
Harvard University
Alma mater Columbia University
Stanford University
Robert B. Wilson
Parag Pathak[1]
Fuhito Kojima
Scott Kominers
Contributions Market design
Awards Frederick W. Lanchester Prize (1990)
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2012)
Golden Goose Award (2013)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Alvin Elliot Roth (born December 18, 1951) is an American academician personality, he is the Craig and Susan McCaw professor of economics at Stanford University and the Gund professor of economics and business administration emeritus at Harvard University.[2]

Roth has made significant contributions to the fields of game theory, market design and experimental economics, and is known for his emphasis on applying economic theory to solutions for "real-world" problems.[3][4]

In 2012, he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences jointly with Lloyd Shapley "for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design".[5]


Al Roth, Sydney Ideas lecture 2012

Alvin Roth graduated from Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in Operations Research. He then moved to Stanford University, receiving both his Master's and PhD also in Operations Research there in 1973 and 1974 respectively.[6]

After leaving Stanford, Roth went on to teach at the University of Illinois which he left in 1982 to become the Andrew W. Mellon professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh. While at Pitt, he also served as a fellow in the university's Center for Philosophy of Science and as a professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business.[7] In 1998, Roth left to join the faculty at Harvard[8] where he remained until deciding to return to Stanford in 2012.[9] In 2013 he became a full member of the Stanford faculty and took emeritus status at Harvard.[2]

Roth is an Alfred P. Sloan fellow, a Guggenheim fellow, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[8][10][11] He is also a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and the Econometric Society.[12][13] In 2013, Roth, Shapley, and David Gale won a Golden Goose Award for their work on market design.[14] A collection of Roth's papers is housed at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University.[15]


Roth has worked in the fields of game theory, market design, and experimental economics. In particular, he helped redesign mechanisms for selecting medical residents, New York City high schools and Boston primary schools.Describing the dynamism of market design, Roth suggests that ‘As the conditions of the market change, the behavior of people change and that causes old rules to be discarded and new rules to be created’.[16]

Case study in game theory

Roth's 1984 paper on the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) highlighted the system designed by John Stalknaker and F. J. Mullen in 1952. The system was built on theoretical foundations independently introduced by David Gale and Lloyd Shapley in 1962.[17] Roth proved that the NRMP was both stable and strategy-proof for unmarried residents but deferred to future study the question of how to match married couples efficiently.[18]

In 1999 Roth redesigned the matching program to ensure stable matches even with married couples.[19][20]

New York City public school system

Roth later helped design the market to match New York City public school students to high schools as incoming freshmen. Previously, the school district had students mail in a list of their five preferred schools in rank order, then mailed a photocopy of that list to each of the five schools. As a result, schools could tell whether or not students had listed them as their first choice. This meant that some students really had a choice of one school, rather than five. It also meant that students had an incentive to hide their true preferences. Roth and his colleagues Atila Abdulkadiroğlu and Parag Pathak proposed David Gale and Lloyd Shapley's incentive-compatible student-proposing deferred acceptance algorithm to the school board in 2003. The school board accepted the measure as the method of selection for New York City public school students. [21][22]

Boston's public school system

Working with Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, and Tayfun Sonmez, Roth presented a similar measure to Boston's public school system in 2003. Here the Boston system gave so much preference to an applicant's first choice that were a student to not receive her first or second choice it was likely that she would not be matched with any school on her list and be administratively assigned to schools which had vacancies. [23] Some Boston parents had informally recognized this feature of the system and developed detailed lists in order to avoid having their children administratively assigned.[24][25] Boston held public hearings on the school selection system and finally in 2005 settled on David Gale and Lloyd Shapley's incentive-compatible student-proposing deferred acceptance algorithm.

New England Program for Kidney Exchange

Roth is a founder of the New England Program for Kidney Exchange along with Tayfun Sonmez and Utku Unver,[26] a registry and matching program that pairs compatible kidney donors and recipients.[27]

The program was designed to operate primarily through the use of two pairs of incompatible donors. Each donor was incompatible with her partner but could be compatible with another donor who was likewise incompatible with his partner. Francis Delmonico, a transplant surgeon at Harvard Medical School, describes a typical situation,[28]

Kidney exchange enables transplantation where it otherwise could not be accomplished. It overcomes the frustration of a biological obstacle to transplantation. For instance, a wife may need a kidney and her husband may want to donate, but they have a blood type incompatibility that makes donation impossible. Now they can do an exchange. And we've done them. Now we are working on a three-way exchange.

Because the National Organ Transplant Act forbids the creation of binding contracts for organ transplant, steps in the procedure had to be performed roughly simultaneously. Two pairs of patients means four operating rooms and four surgical teams acting in concert with each other. Hospitals and professionals in the transplant community felt that the practical burden of three pairwise exchanges would be too large.[29] While the original theoretical work discovered that an "efficient frontier" would be reached with exchanges between three pairs of otherwise incompatible donors, it was determined that the goals of the program would not be sacrificed by limiting exchanges to pairs of incompatible donors. A 12-party (six donors and six recipients) kidney exchange was performed in April 2008.[30][31]


Roth is married and has two sons.[6] His elder son, Aaron Roth, is a professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania.[32] As of 2015, his younger son, Ben Roth, is an economics graduate student at MIT.[33]


Roth is the author of numerous scholarly articles, books, and other publications. A selection:

Journal articles

Roth has published over 70 articles in peer reviewed journals. According to Scopus, the most widely cited have been:

See also


  1. Essays on real -life allocation problems
  2. 1 2 Al Roth's Game Theory, Experimental Economics, and Market Design Page (accessed 2013-27-04).
  3. Susan Adams, "Un-Freakonomics: A Harvard professor uses economics to save lives, assign doctors and get kids into the right high school." Forbes, August 9, 2010.
  4. Leon Neyfakh, "The Matchmaker: The Harvard economist who stopped just studying the world and began trying to fix it", Boston Globe, April 3, 2011.
  5. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2012, Nobel Prize official site (accessed 2012-10-15).
  6. 1 2 Niklas Magnusson and Josiane Kremer, Roth, Shapley Win Nobel Economics Prize for Matching Theory",, October 15, 2012.
  7. Chute, Eleanor (October 15, 2012). "Professor with Pitt ties wins Nobel economics prize". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  8. 1 2 Alvin E. Roth Biography Faculty and Research. Accessed on June 6, 2008
  9. Katherine Mangan, "Stanford Lures Alvin Roth and 2 Other Economists From Harvard", The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 18, 2012.
  10. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation R Fellows Page Archived August 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Accessed on July 6, 2008
  11. Members of the Academy of Arts & Sciences Archived June 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. (October 2007). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Accessed on July 6, 2008
  12. Fellows of the Econometric Society Archived December 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. (March 2008). Econometric Society. Accessed on July 6, 2008
  13. Alvin E. Roth. National Bureau of Economic Research. Accessed on July 6, 2008
  14. "Market Design". The Golden Goose Award. Retrieved 2015-05-27.
  15. "Alvin Roth Papers". Rubenstein Library, Duke University. Retrieved 2016-03-18.
  16. Alvin Roth. in UBS Nobel Perspectives interview, 2012.
  17. D. Gale and L. S. Shapley: "College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage", American Mathematical Monthly 69, 9–14, 1962.
  18. Alvin E. Roth (1984). "The Evolution of the Labor Market for Medical Interns and Residents: A Case Study in Game Theory" Archived July 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.. In: Journal of Political Economy 92: 991–1016. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  19. Roth, Alvin E. Deferred Acceptance Algorithms: History, Theory, Practice, and Open Questions, International Journal of Game Theory, Special Issue in Honor of David Gale on his 85th birthday, 36, March 2008, 537–569.
  20. Sara Robinson. "Tweaking the Math to Make Happier Medical Marriages". in: New York Times. August 24, 2004.
  21. Alvin E. Roth (2005). "The New York City High School Match" Archived July 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. (or here ). With Atila Abdulkadiroglu and Parag A. Pathak. in: American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings 95. (2): 364–367.
  22. Herszenhornh, David M. (October 3, 2003). "Revised Admission for High Schools". New York Times. pp. New York/Region. Retrieved June 27, 2008.
  23. Gareth Cook (2003). "School assignment flaws detailed: Two economists study problem, offer relief" In: Boston Globe 2003-9-12.
  24. Alvin E. Roth. (2007). "Robert Rosenthal Memorial Lecture 2007: What Have we Learned from Market Design?" Archived May 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Flash, Web Video. Boston: Boston University.
  25. Roth noted that the West Zone Parents Group at Yahoo Groups, among others, devoted considerable time and effort to estimating capacity for schools in the area and disseminated recommendations on the basis of those estimates.
  26. Dubner, Stephen; Levitt, Steven (July 9, 2006). "Flesh Trade". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved July 5, 2008.
  27. Wessel, David (June 17, 2004). "Renal Donors Swap Recipients If Blood Types Don't Match; Cheating on Priority Lists". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  28. "Kidney Exchange: A Life-Saving Application of Matching Theory". Discoveries. National Science Foundation. Archived from the original on June 21, 2008. Retrieved July 5, 2008.
  29. Roth, Alvin E.; Tayfun Sonmez; Utku Unver (2005). "Pairwise kidney exchange" (PDF). Journal of Economic Theory. 125 (2): 153. doi:10.1016/j.jet.2005.04.004. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 25, 2010. Retrieved July 5, 2008.
  30. "'Six-way' kidney transplant first". BBC News. April 9, 2008. Retrieved June 1, 2008.
  31. Harford, Tim (April 10, 2008). "6-way kidney exchange: Al Roth should be proud". The Undercover Economist blog. Financial Times. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  32. "Aaron Roth".
  33. "MIT Economics : Graduate Economics Association".

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