Did any recipients of the economics Nobel prize receive their prize for work that was primarily or substantially empirical (rather than theoretical) in nature?
In 2011, Tom Sargent and Chris Sims were jointly awarded the Nobel Memorial prize for empirical work.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for 2011 to Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims "for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy."
Dr. Sargent's contribution was related to the use of structural macroeconometrics in policy and analysis and Dr. Sims' contribution was to the use of vector autoregressions (VAR) to analyze temporary changes in policy and other factors.
Source: Nobel Prize Website
In 1971, Simon Kuznets received the Nobel Memorial Prize for empirical work. The famous Kuznets Curvee, is based on empirical evidence, made on the basis of data collected by Simon Kuznets.
The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1971 was awarded to Simon Kuznets "for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development".
In 1993, Robert Fogel and Douglass North received the Nobel Prize for applying quantitative methods in the field economic history
The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1993 was awarded jointly to Robert W. Fogel and Douglass C. North "for having renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change"