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Nobel Prize Winner Claudia Goldin and Women in the Workforce

(Editor’s note: Welcome to Bold’s series on the Nobel Prize, its winners, and their contributions. Read up on the notable winners of the Nobel Peace Prize here.)

For most Nobel Prize winners, the research or accomplishments they achieve invoke tremendous passion. Most, if not all, have dedicated their lives to a specific mission to better humankind. And often, these pursuits have relevance and meaning to their own lives. But for this year’s 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics, this rings true to an even greater extent. It was recently announced that Claudia Goldin will be this year’s recipient for her longstanding work in gender inequality.  She was able to demonstrate both trends and causes that explain women’s gender gap in the U.S. wage and labor market. And being only the third woman to receive the honor, her work is certainly appropriate.

a woman who is definitely not Claudia Goldin
In her Nobel Prize winning research, Claudia Goldin discerned that women’s role in the workforce has fluctuated greatly over the years.

It’s well known that gender gaps exist in the U.S. when it comes to wage and labor market opportunities. Despite recent reductions in this gap, inequalities remain, with recent trends showing stagnation. Goldin, through challenging and difficult research, has been able to elucidate key factors account for both. As such, her findings offer key insights through which future reforms and progress might take place. But these pursuits won’t be easy, as Goldin herself admits. Regardless, her discoveries provide a necessary foundation for such change. This is why she was appropriately selected as the 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics.

“Claudia Goldin’s discoveries have vast society implications. She has shown us that the nature of this problem or the source of these underlying gender gaps changes throughout history and with the course of development.” – Randi Hjalmarsson, Member of the Nobel Committee

Breaking Her Own Gender Barriers

When it comes to gender gaps in recognition, Goldin has firsthand experience. This is not because of a lack of recognition for her own incredible achievements; instead, it’s because of a series of “firsts” that she has been able to accomplish. For example, she was the very first female professor to be tenured within Harvard University’s economics department. She was awarded tenure in 1990, at the same time she was releasing her award-winning book, “Understanding the Gender Gap – An Economics History of American Women.” It contributed greatly to her being designated the 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics.

(Read up on other winners of the Nobel Prize in economics in this Bold story.)

Goldin is only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics. Though this Nobel Prize was added later in 1968, this is still a small number of female recipients. In addition, of the other two winner to receive the award, Goldin is the only one to win it solo. Elinor Ostrom and Esther Duflo won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 and 2019, respectively, but they shared their recognition alongside male counterparts. Thus, Goldin stands alone.

a woman happily working in some office
Based on her research, Goldin discovered that the advent of the birth control greatly impacted how many women join the workforce.

Critical Discoveries in the U.S. Gender Gap

In researching women’s history in the U.S. related to wage and labor markets, Goldin’s work went back two centuries. What she found was that participation in the workforce declined significantly during the 19th century. It was then that a shift occurred from agricultural to industrial pursuits in the nation. This, however, changed early in the 20th century, as the service sector began to expand significantly. These shifts demonstrated that female participation in the job market fluctuated greatly with social and economic developments. Some favored participation, while others did not. And this again shifted again in the latter portion of the 20th century.

As the 20th century evolved, much of the disparities between men and women in labor was attributed to education and occupational types. But this was only a piece of the puzzle, as Goldin was able to show. Interestingly, her research revealed a significant impact of the birth control pill on changing dynamics. Women’s careers, marriage decisions, and pursuits of education improved tremendously after this. Also, based on a 15-year study, Goldin showed wage gaps consistently developed around the time of a woman’s first child. While some of these shifts have narrowed the wage and labor gap for women, a gap still remains. The 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics believes current barriers to progress further will be harder to overcome.

“The solution isn’t a simple one, but part of it is reducing the value of these ‘greedy jobs,’ getting jobs in which individuals are very good substitutes for each other and can trade off.” – Claudia Goldin, the 2023 Nobel Prize winner in Economics

Goldin’s Insights and Recommendations

a 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics in the office
It doesn’t take a 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics to tell us that women are underrepresented in the workforce… but it certainly helps.

Goldin’s life work has provided understanding of a complex subject, but the core of this reflects the impact that societal and family structures have on gender labor markets. According to Goldin, gender equality will only be fully realized when couples’ equality is attained. Sharing home and family responsibilities and recognizing equality of talents between the sexes are essential first steps in this regard. She believes this is why there remains about a 15-20% wage gap between men and women. While education and other barriers have been better addressed, societal ones have not. This is where new opportunities for gender equality exist. Women have adapted quickly, but labor markets and government policies are much slower to change.

One of the persistent barriers that Goldin believes to be significant is what she calls “greedy jobs.” These are positions that offer little flexibility or require long hours. This discriminates against women who generally require greater flexibility. In addressing these issues, the 2023 Nobel Prize winner in economics suggests two things. One is subsidies and government funding for childcare that would help eliminate women’s disadvantages. The second involves moving away from single-person job duties to one that shares tasks. Goldin notes this is accomplished in many sectors already. Therefore, it’s certainly a feasible solution in every industry.

Whether or not Goldin’s advice is heeded remains to be seen. But either way, her insights have the power to drive further gender equality in the future.

 

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