Economic Equality: Claudia Goldin's Nobel Journey

What would you do with roughly $1 million? Perhaps you’d buy yourself an extravagant house, maybe a new car or even treat yourself to a Mediterranean vacation. Well, these are questions that one Claudia Goldin may be asking herself. After all, she just became the third woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in Economics and first person in history to be honoured independently. Since entering the playing field roughly around 35 years ago, she certainly has left her mark. But why did it take so long? That’s one of the questions her research aims to answer. 

This year’s Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Claudia Goldin’s research on female participation in the labour market, a reoccurring topic of concern that has been studied for decades by several acclaimed individuals – and not just in the field of Economics. Whilst the collation of data on this topic has enabled us to find modern-day solutions to issues concerning female participation in the workforce, Goldin’s research remains distinct.

She brilliantly deciphers contemporary matters such as immigration, education, technological change, income inequality and the gender gap in earnings, all through ‘the lens of the past’, and examines the root of these concerns.

Goldin has been acclaimed in her contributions to Economics for years, earning the reputation of the first woman to receive tenure at Harvard’s Economics department. This didn’t come easy however, as relaxed and elegant as she’s made it seem. 

When Claudia graduated the Bronx High School of Science, she entered Cornell University with the resolution of becoming a microbiologist, you might think this is a bit far off Economics, and you’d be right. But throughout her sophomore year at Cornell, Claudia had made a personal discovery! Her fascination in regulation and industrial organization, going on to eventually write her theses on the ‘Regulation of Communications Satellites’ and entering the PhD program in Economics at the University of Chicago. Whilst she was determined to obtain a doctorate in industrial organization, she felt herself inclined towards Labour Economics and Economic History. 

After earning her PhD, Goldin became an assistant professor at multiple esteemed universities including the University of Wisconsin, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania, finally joining the Economics department at Harvard University in 1990. 

Her research has gifted us the first true, exhaustive narrative of women’s earnings and labour force participation, through the centuries, affirming primary causes of change in participation, as well as the central sources of the remaining gender gap in earnings.

Through Goldin’s findings we may collectively conclude that the Industrial Revolution has caused a significant decline in women’s independent earnings when compared to men’s earnings before the economic recovery which occurred shortly after the second world war. Women had always been tested when entering the workforce, often choosing between a career and a family. It wasn’t believed that there was a feasible or sustainable way for a woman to raise a family and earn a living simultaneously.

This is where Goldin’s interpretation of ‘the pill’ comes in. She implies that the contraceptive pill allowed women to further progress in their work, reaching relatively equal positions as their male colleagues. However, child rearing continued to prove a permanent obstruction to achieving this idea of wage equality.

And so, she continued to probe her hypothesis, initiating the Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge (UWE) in 2015 to additionally comprehend why the proportion of women among undergraduate majors in Economics was noticeably low. Goldin decided to utilize a randomized controlled trial with 20 institutions as treatment, and other institutions as controls to discover whether low-cost interventions were feasible at increasing the number of female Economics majors.

Her devotion remained consistent for a further 8 years until October 9th, 2023. The day all her efforts were globally praised. She concluded that the extent to which earnings were vastly different amongst women and men in the same occupation, was largely due to the point at which they have children. Her thoughts on this matter? “The important point is that both lose”, is what she told the Social Science Bite blog in 2022. Both genders face opportunity costs but in very contrasting contexts that cannot be computed; “Men forgo time with their family and women often forgo their career.”

What we can finally discern from Goldin’s astute findings, is the basis of the problem we’ve trying to fight; women have been set back in the labour market due to lack of familial support and opportunities to truly balance work and life. She has even refrained from using rose-tinted glasses when presenting her findings, by plainly stating the problem as it was found – children have caused disproportions and wage inequality between men and women, as cute as they are, without even realizing it. Hopefully now, we can wade a progressive movement forward using Goldin’s conviction.

For 33 years, Goldin has shown the Economics universe why she belongs, posing as an inspiration to thousands of women looking to join the field, and she will continue to do so now that all eyes are on her. 

About this article

Written by:
  • Daria Haidar
| Published on: Oct 18, 2023