Claudia Goldin

In October 2023, Claudia Goldin made history by receiving the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, becoming the third woman ever to win this prize and the first woman to do so solo.[1] Acknowledged as a trailblazer in exploring women's contributions to the economy, Dr. Goldin was awarded the Nobel Prize for her substantial contributions in unraveling the complexities of women's labor market outcomes and the fundamental factors underlying the gender pay gap over the past two centuries. As an economic historian, labor economist, and gender expert, she focused her work on drawing insights from the past to better understand the present.[2]

Covering over 200 years of economic history, Dr. Goldin’s work brought to light that the existing pay gap between men and women cannot be attributed solely to gender discrimination. Instead, it is rooted in the high cost associated with “temporal flexibility”, i.e. women working fewer or more flexibility to allow them to combine work with having a family. [3] In her recent book, Dr. Goldin explained that “greedy” jobs, i.e. jobs that offer increasing returns to long and uncertain hours such as consulting, are to blame for the persisting pay gap. This type of jobs interacts with the parenthood penalty, where women tend to allocate more time to childcare responsibilities, establishing a critical link between gender pay gaps and the occurrence of women having her first child. More specifically, Goldin and her colleagues found, that the gap started to widen a year or two after a women had her first baby.[4]

Through exploring the history of gender labor-market inequality over the decades, Dr. Goldin was able to overturn assumptions about both historical gender relations and the necessary policies and interventions to achieve greater equality in the present day. Broadly, her work illustrated how the process of closing the gender wage gap happened in bursts, with progress halting around 2005.[5] Goldin’s work revealed that as the economy shifted away from agricultural and towards industry during the Industrial Revolution, married women were driven out of the labor market. Therefore, economic growth was not, as commonly believed, the driving factor behind ‘leveling’ the playing field. It was only in the 1900s, as service-sector jobs proliferated and high-school education developed, that female labor force participation increased. Hence, the classic Goldin result: a U-shaped relationship between the size of Western economies the female labor force participation.[6]

When incomes are extremely low and when certain types of agriculture dominate, women are in the labor force to great extent, often unpaid. AS income rise in most societies due to the expansion of the market or introduction of new technology women’s labor force participation rates fall. As female education improves and as the value of women’s time in the market increases.

Dr. Goldin considered the 1970s as a “revolutionary” period for women’s contribution to the economy as the increased availability of birth control pills enabled them to delay and control when to have children. Women in the US delayed marriage, spent more years in education, and made progress in the labor market.[7]  Between 1967 and 1979, following the approval of the contraceptive pill in 1960, the percentage of 20-and 21-year-old women anticipating participation in the labor market surged from 35% to 80%. [8]

Dr. Goldin's collective work underscores the importance of comprehending historical trends and data for economists grappling with significant questions. She proposes that, at this point in history, the solution for gender pay gaps, rather than relying on government interventions, should involve reforms within the labor market, particularly emphasizing the need to restructure and remunerate jobs to enhance temporal flexibility. More specifically, Goldin’s work shows that the gender pay gap could potentially vanish if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who work for long and particular hours, a change that is less apparent in the corporate, financial, and legal sectors

Dr. Goldin consistently ranks among the top 10 most influential female economists globally.[9] Serving as the president of the American Economic Association in 2013-14, she made history as the first woman to be offered tenure in Harvard's economics department in 1989. Dr. Goldin, who earned her economics doctorate from the University of Chicago, directed the Development of the American Economy (DAE) Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) for 28 years until 2017, overseeing a surge in economic history papers in top journals over the past two decade. [10]



[6] The U-shaped relationship is revealed across the process of economic development and the history of currently advanced economies. Female labor force participation initially declines as production in economies moves from the household level (small businesses, family farms,) to the wider market and to a strong income effect. As female education improves and as the value of women’s time in the market increases (weakening the income effect and strengthening the substitution effect), women move back into the paid labor force.

[10] ibid