"Al Roth richly deserves this prize," agreed Daniel McFadden, a professor of health economics at the University of California, Berkeley. "He is an imaginative inventor and doer, who has solved concrete, important resource-allocation problems."
Prize committee member Peter Gardenfors said the winners' work could also be applied to other areas, such as allocating housing to students or refugees.
"There are economic problems that can't be solved with normal market mechanisms," Gardenfors said. "With these matchings, there is no money involved so the main thing is to follow what kind of preferences people have — who wants to be matched with whom — and find a good solution to that."
Shapley learned that he and Roth had won the $1.2 million award from an Associated Press photographer and another journalist who went to his home in Los Angeles early Monday.
"I consider myself a mathematician, and the award is for economics," Shapley told AP. "I never, never in my life took a course in economics."
The son of renowned astronomer Harlow Shapley, who helped estimate the true size of the Milky Way galaxy, Shapely noted: "Now, I'm ahead of my father. He got other prizes. ... But he did not get a Nobel Prize."
Roth said he and his wife were asleep when the phone rang at 3:30 a.m.
"We missed the first call because we were asleep, but we had time to wake up and think that might be what it was," he said. "My wife is going to go out and get us some coffee, and maybe we'll absorb it."
He said the award "casts a light on the work. It makes it more visible. And it's an exciting area of economics, so that's a good thing. ... We're not macroeconomists who think about the whole economy. We think about particular markets and marketplaces and how to make them work better."
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was the last of the 2012 Nobel awards to be announced.
It's not technically a Nobel Prize: Unlike the five other awards, it wasn't established in the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist who invented dynamite. The economics prize was created by the Swedish central bank in Nobel's memory in 1968, and has been handed out with the other prizes ever since.
Americans have dominated the economics award: 15 of the last 17 winners have come from the United States.
The 2012 Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics chemistry and literature and the Nobel Peace Prize were announced last week. All awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.
Wiseman reported from Washington. AP writers Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm, Lauren E. Bohn In Jerusalem, Jay Lindsay in Boston and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles, and AP photographer Reed Saxon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.