In October 2023, Claudia Goldin became the third woman to receive a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The economist researches and teaches about gender inequalities in income and work opportunities. There is much to learn from her discoveries, igniting passionate people worldwide to make changes for the betterment of society.
Committee chair Jakob Svensson said Goldin’s research was groundbreaking and crucial in setting future industry goals.
Changing the future of economics
As the first woman tenured in Harvard University’s Economics Department, Claudia inspired generations of women economists. She shook gender norms in the field and helped the world see work and financial equality through a new lens. Her research is diligent in removing biases and focusing on data that identifies the reason behind the gender pay gap.
Her love of economics began in college. She earned a doctorate in labor economics and industrial organization in 1972. In 1979, she became a tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania before taking her role at Harvard in 1990. During her career, she served in numerous economic organizations. She served a 28-year stint directing the American Economy Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Goldin’s life work centers on understanding and eliminating the causes of unequal pay between men and women. She married another Harvard economist, which makes her passion for the subject a family venture. Goldin also loves golden retrievers, emphasized by various mentions of her current dog, Pika, who has many accomplishments.
She created the Undergraduate Women in Economics initiative to inspire women’s involvement. Her actions led to successful programs at dozens of universities, paving the way for more female-led research.
What we can learn from Goldin’s work
Claudia Goldin combed through over 200 years of data surrounding the labor market in the United States. Her work lets us understand why women have and still are unequal in many industries. Unfortunately, discrimination exists, and 61% of employees have experienced or witnessed it firsthand. Here’s what we know, thanks to her research.
It’s not an upward trend
Society valued women more in the past than in recent decades. Researchers expected the fight for equal pay to make a relatively straight line, but Goldin’s data shows it’s a U-shape.
The transitions made in the Industrial Revolution decreased women’s contributions to the workforce. However, participation increased with the rising service sector in the early 1900s. Goldin states these changes resulted from evolving social norms revolving around family structure and a woman’s role. The values played a continual role in their education and employment.
Contraception plays an important role
The invention of reliable contraceptive methods and their widening acceptance directly correlates with the rise in women having education and careers. Before, getting pregnant at any time was an accepted part of life, and women faced the expectation of staying home to care for their growing family. Birth control provided a newfound freedom to control what happens to their bodies and when.
That freedom encouraged more women to obtain higher education, which opened up new career opportunities and the ability to earn a comparable income to their husbands. No longer was there the constant concern that a baby would change their path. Women could plan their careers and education.
“Greedy” work makes a huge difference in today’s world
One of the most profound discoveries through Goldin’s research was that the pay gap often happens because of personal, not corporate, decision-making. It’s less acceptable for a business to pay women a lower wage than men in the same position. In the digital age, the fight for pay equality is strong, and wage discussions occur more openly.
However, the sacrifices at home still fall mostly on women. The highest earners tend to participate in “greedy” work — positions that require an inflexible schedule and outside events, meetings, and conferences. Couples can each have a greedy job, but starting a family and handling personal matters often requires someone to sacrifice for a more flexible career option.
According to Goldin’s work, women are more likely to step back in part thanks to lingering cultural and familial traditions and expectations to be caretakers.
Paving the way to equal pay with Goldin’s research
Knowledge is power, and Claudia Goldin earned her Nobel by bringing more women to economics and providing the world with knowledge that can forever change the fight for gender equality. Now that we know the causes of unequal pay, the world can take steps to prevent them in the future.