Alesina was born in Broni, Pavia, Italy. Alesina obtained his undergraduate degree in economics from Bocconi University.
From 2003–2006, Alesina served as Chairman of the Department of Economics at Harvard. He was the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy at Harvard. He visited several institutions including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tel Aviv University, University of Stockholm, The World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 2006, Alesina participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project.
He published five books and edited many more. His two most recent books were The Future of Europe: Reform or Decline (2006, MIT Press), and Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference (2004, Oxford). He was a co-editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics for eight years and associate editor of many academic journals. He published columns in many leading newspapers around the world.