The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Monday awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, more commonly known as the Nobel Prize in Economics, to the American Claudia Goldin, a professor at Harvard University. The award, which makes Goldin the third woman to win it after its inauguration in 1968, recognizes her studies on female underrepresentation and lower wages in the labor market. “Despite modernisation, economic growth and rising proportions of employed women in the twentieth century, for a long period of time the earnings gap between women and men hardly closed,” the academy noted in a press release to announce the award. “Goldin has trawled the archives and collected over 200 years of data from the U.S., allowing her to demonstrate how and why gender differences in earnings and employment rates have changed over time.”
Goldin, 77, holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University and a PhD from the University of Chicago, and in her long teaching and research career she has spent time at the universities of Wisconsin, Princeton, Pennsylvania and, since 1990, Harvard. She has also been a member of the prestigious non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research for more than three decades.
The award is a “very important prize, not just for me, but for the many people who work in this field and who are trying to understand why there is so much change, but there are still large differences,” Goldin told AFP. Goldin was herself a pioneer, becoming the first woman to achieve a permanent position in the department of economics at Ivy League Harvard and Pennsylvania.
The New York-born researcher has been among the favorites for the Nobel Prize in Economics for several years. In 2019 she won the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award, viewed by some as a prelude to receiving the Nobel award, for her “for her groundbreaking contributions to the historical analysis of the role of women in the economy, and for her analysis of the reasons behind gender inequality,” both in educational terms, which until then had always been alluded to, and for family reasons, such as the birth of a first child, which has been much less present in the academic debate and Goldin brought to the forefront.
“Men’s presenteeism has worsened the wage gap with women,” Goldin noted in interview with EL PAÍS in 2019. “Since the 1980s, for more than 30 years, women have not done badly thanks to the improvement in their education, in which they even surpass the male sex. However, there has been an increase in the number of men who put in more hours, who are available for the company all the time. And that has led to a stagnation of the gap and no improvement is visible.”
Goldin also denies that the origin of the gender gap was purely discrimination: “There is something else,” she said in that interview. According to her research, the gap grew substantially with the growth of administrative and service jobs, a niche of the labor market in which bosses tend to place a higher value on those employees who spend the most time on the job, and not necessarily on the most productive ones. “Men are disproportionately available to put in long hours at work, while women are disproportionately available to engage in household chores.” That, she argued, “is the other side of the coin of inequality in couples.”
The Harvard professor is a strong advocate of equal paternity and maternity leave, and for fathers to take it as mothers do. “It is expected and assumed that women should enjoy maternity leave, but the same is not expected of men. This attitude needs to change so that men who take paternity leave are no longer thought of as not being good workers,” Goldin said in 2019.
In 1990, the Nobel laureate published Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, a now iconic work in which she questioned many of the explanations that had previously been provided for the wage gap between male and female workers. The origin of discrimination, she concluded, lies largely in promotion mechanisms, with institutional and corporate personnel management policies that have helped to perpetuate it even further over the years.
“Although it looks at one country, the United States, its results are applicable elsewhere,” Goldin said after receiving the Frontiers of Knowledge award. " The key factors behind this have to do with what is going on around individuals rather than individuals themselves. Things like economic and technological change and the rise in real incomes. These have come together with an increase in education and it is that, more than any other factor, that has empowered individual women to seek their own identities and careers.”
In the footsteps of Ostrom and Duflo
Women are the exception among Nobel Prize in Economics laureates. Of the 93 researchers to have won the award, only three are women: Elinor Ostrom (2009), Esther Duflo (2019, who at 46 also became the youngest winner of the prize) and, now, Goldin.
The Nobel Prize in Economics is the only one of the six Nobel Prizes not directly created by the will of Swedish magnate Alfred Nobel. Unlike the others, it was inaugurated in 1968 by the National Bank of Sweden — the Sveriges Riksbank — and was first awarded a year later.
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