In Memoriam: Stephan Klasen

On 27 October 2020, Professor Stephan Klasen passed away after a serious and prolonged illness which took his life too early. We have lost one of Europe’s leading development economists, a brilliant mind and generous soul. With his unceasing dedication to research in development economics and selfless support to young scholars, Stephan has been and will continue to be a prolific source of inspiration and a role model for a human-faced approach to work.

Stephan was Professor of Development Economics at the University of Göttingen, Director of the Ibero-America Institute for Economic Research, and founder of the Courant Research Centre on Poverty, Equity, and Growth in Developing Countries. He graduated in 1994 from Harvard University with a PhD in economics, under the supervision of Amartya Sen, Juliet Schor, and Jeffrey Williamson. After positions at the World Bank in Washington DC, in South Africa, at King's College Cambridge, UK, and the University of Munich, he joined the University of Göttingen in 2003. From there, he started to create what became one of the most renowned centres for development economics research in Europe, alias the Göttinger Schule. As first reviewer, he supervised 76 doctoral theses, and numerous postdocs, and published 135 articles, 30 book chapters, and eight books.

With succinctly-written papers and lectures filled with his intellectual acumen, Stephan’s work made an indelible contribution to the discipline of development economics as a whole, and particularly on issues related to poverty, inequality, and gender.

Among Stephan’s most influential works, we remember his pioneering articles on the gender bias in mortality which revealed global patterns and trends in gender discrimination and highlighted the important role of female education and employment opportunities in reducing gender disparities. His widely-acclaimed findings on the negative impact of gender inequalities on economic and social development were also game-changing in placing gender issues at the center of development policy discussions. Stephan’s contributions added to the World Bank’s gender strategy and informed the creation of gender-related development and inequality indices by international organizations such as the OECD and UNDP.

Beyond his prolific and inspiring research on the drivers and constraints to achieving gender equity in development outcomes, Stephan’s works on poverty, inequality, and pro-poor growth represent key references in the literature. His conceptual and empirical contributions led to an enhanced understanding of the conditions under which growth can be poverty-reducing — with clear policy implications — and informed the development of multidimensional poverty measures and the inequality-adjusted human development index. In addition, he was a pioneer in linking climate and development issues.

Stephan was passionately committed to put his seminal academic contributions into practice, holding numerous policy-related functions and providing constant policy advice to numerous international organizations, development aid agencies, and developing country governments. To mention just some of the important roles that he has played, in Germany, for four years he was chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the Verein für Socialpolitik (German Economic Association), and member of the advisory boards of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Institute for Development Evaluation (Deval).

During 2015–18 he was also President of the European Development Research Network (EUDN), a network of renowned development economists in Europe. Outstandingly, Stephan Klasen was the only German member of the Committee for Development Policy, an advisory body to the United Nations. In this position, since 2013, he advised on global governance, the development of the 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the determination of the status of Least Developed Countries.

Beyond Stephan’s professional impact, he left an unprecedented influence on the lives of his students, colleagues, family, and friends. He was not only an outstanding academic, but also a kind, humble, and incredibly grounded person. He will remain widely recognized for his selfless support and dedication to many young scholars in the field. Even though Stephan was severely ill in his final years, he never ceased to offer support and mentorship to his students and colleagues. Staying true to his own teaching and research, he was also a big supporter and promoter of women in academia.

Stephan’s collaborative and supportive nature spilled over to his students and led to the creation of a solid, collaborative network of young scholars guided by principles of fairness, honesty, and respect for each other.

Even though Stephan is not with us anymore, his research and values will stay with us forever and continue to inspire our lives. To quote Amartya Sen, Stephan was a remarkable scholar and contributor to changing the world. The world looks forward to seeing more of Stephan’s kind in the future. As a devoted father, husband, teacher, colleague, advisor, and academic, Stephan will be sorely missed.