In a surprising act of timing, Harvard University professor Claudia Goldin published a paper on Monday titled Why Women Win. It featured milestone moments in women’s rights in the United States from 1905 to 2023.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
A few hours later, she was awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics “for advancing our understanding of women’s labor market outcomes.”
Goldin became only the third woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and the first woman to win it in her own right without sharing it with a man.
For countless women in economics, and for those advocating gender equality more broadly, her recognition adds to the milestone moments they have documented in their work.
©Johan Jernstad/Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Over decades of research Goldin has systematically collected data and archival stories, detective style, to uncover explanations for the rise and fall (and re-rise) of women’s salaried employment over the centuries, including:
powerful effect of contraceptive pill
Removal of legal restrictions on employment of married women
Women’s entry into higher education
Shift towards service economy.
Highlighting the causes of the gender gap, Goldin examines contemporary work culture to identify the unhealthy phenomenon of “greedy work” in which employers demand excessive hours and 24/7 availability.
It creates a gender divide by penalizing workers – predominantly women – whose caregiving role conflicts with employers’ excessive expectations.
One practical conclusion from Goldin’s research is that gender differences in economic outcomes cannot be attributed solely to women’s “choices” or “preferences.”
Her comprehensive description of women’s experiences shows that these gender differences arise from an interplay of broader factors; Among them, social norms, technological breakthroughs, institutional structures, and policy settings that push or pull women’s workforce participation in different directions.
Why does Goldin’s Nobel matter?
These insights are important for policymakers, as they point to the need to reform systems and cultures rather than placing the responsibility on individual women to change their behavior.
This recognition is also a confirmation of Goldin’s research style.
The Nobel Prize in Economics is not usually awarded for the creation of new knowledge, but instead priority is given to new theoretical and conceptual methods.
Goldin contributes both new insights and innovative methods through her investigative style, where she mines historical archives and draws on women’s personal stories to understand the data.
Life experiences and personal stories are often left out of science. Goldin’s work confirms that economics – as a social science – needs them.
This also matters for economics itself
Goldin’s research has important implications for addressing gender equality within the economics profession.
Economics has a long history as a male-dominated discipline.
Despite improvements in recent years, women are still underrepresented in economics and a growing body of evidence suggests that gender bias persists.
The research questions to which Goldin has devoted his career are topics that have long been sidelined in mainstream economics, labeled by many in the profession as “special interest” topics Which should not be taken seriously.
Princeton University Press 2021
In my previous review of Goldin’s book, Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Towards Equity, I reflected on the importance of Goldin’s pioneering role for gender equality researchers like myself:
“As an economist who also researches gender equality issues – and motivated by the simple quest to better understand the reasons why we see such stark gender inequality in our economy – I find myself often surprised by the allegations. I find that my research is driven by a subjective ideological agenda; allegations have been made to discredit its value and call into question the integrity of my research.
“I know that other researchers in the field of gender equality, especially women, also face these humiliating blames on their professionalism.
“The rich wealth of research and insight that Goldin has contributed to the economics profession throughout his career – arguably worthy of Nobel recognition – confirms that this stream of work Is Important.”
Read more: Nobel Prize in Economics: Claudia Goldin’s work is a goldmine for understanding the gender pay gap and women’s empowerment
Goldin’s contributions extend far beyond his academic papers.
In her role as President of the American Economic Association in 2013, Goldin led an initiative to fully understand the low number of women in economics and to provide more support for joining and remaining in the field.
She didn’t just research gender inequality from a distance – she recognized where it was prevalent in her own discipline and (as would be expected of an economist) she took evidence-based action to address it.
Although we have not yet achieved gender equality, awarding the Nobel Prize to a female economist who has dedicated her career to understanding gender inequality and helping to solve it counts as a victory for women in economics.