Angus Deaton has dug into obscure data to explore a range of problems: The scope of poverty in India. How poor countries treat young girls. The link between income inequality and economic growth.
The Princeton University economist's research has raised doubts about sweeping solutions to poverty and about the effectiveness of aid programs. And on Monday, it earned him the Nobel prize in economics.
For work that the award committee said has had "immense importance for human welfare, not least in poor countries," Deaton, 69, will receive a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor (about $975,000) from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Deaton's research has "shown other researchers and international organizations like the World Bank how to go about understanding poverty at the very basic level," said Torsten Persson, secretary of the award committee.
He becomes the sixth scholar affiliated with Princeton to win the Nobel in economics since it was first given in 1969.
"That lightning would strike me seemed like a very small probability event," Deaton said at a news conference at Princeton. "There are many people who are worthy of this award."