Claudia Goldin Wins Nobel in Economics for Studying Women in the Work Force

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded on Monday to Claudia Goldin, a Harvard professor, for advancing the world’s understanding of women’s progress in the work force.

She is the third woman to have won the economics Nobel, which was first awarded in 1969, and the first one to be honored with it solo rather than sharing in the prize.

Dr. Goldin, 77, has long been a trailblazer in the field — she was the first woman to be offered tenure in Harvard’s economics department, in 1989. Her wide-ranging work has delved into the causes of the gender wage gap, the evolution of women’s participation in the job market over the past 200 years, and the implications for the future of the labor force.

The Nobel committee announced the award in Stockholm, praising Dr. Goldin for her research on female employment, which showed that employment among married women decreased in the 1800s, as the economy moved away from agriculture and toward industry. Women’s participation then increased in the 1900s, as the service sector began to expand as a part of the economy.

Dr. Goldin has described the 1970s in particular as a “revolutionary” period in which women in the United States began to marry later, take strides in higher education, and make major progress in the labor market. Birth control pills became more easily available in those years, taking away what Dr. Goldin has called a “potent” reason for early marriage — and giving women more time to form identities outside of the home.

Dr. Goldin has also illustrated how the process of closing the gender wage gap has been uneven over the course of history. Recently, progress in closing it has been halting: Today, women in the United States make a little over 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.

In the past, gender wage gaps could be explained by education and occupation. But Dr. Goldin has shown that most of the earnings difference is now between men and women in the same jobs, the Nobel committee said. Notably, it kicks in after the birth of a woman’s first child.

In a 15-year study of business school students at the University of Chicago, for instance, Goldin and her colleagues found in one paper that the gap in pay started to widen a year or two after a woman had her first baby.

“Claudia Goldin’s discoveries have vast societal implications,” said Randi Hjalmarsson, a member of the committee and professor of economics at the University of Gothenburg.

Dr. Goldin said in an interview that she hoped people would take away from her work how important long-term changes are to understanding the labor market.

“We see a residue of history around us,” she said, explaining that societal and family structures that women and men grow up in shape their behavior and economic outcomes.

“We’re never going to have gender equality until we also have couple equity,” she said. While there has been “monumental progressive change, at the same time there are important differences” which often tie back to women doing more work in the home.

Dr. Goldin has a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago. She often co-authors papers with her husband, Lawrence Katz, a fellow Harvard University economist.

She was asleep when the call informing her of the prize came in — she had gotten up earlier to let the dog out but had gone back to bed. She said that she was “delighted.”

Asked about what it meant for a woman to win the economics award on her own, Dr. Goldin said it marked a sort of “culmination” after years of “important changes” toward more gender diversity in the field.

Claudia Olivetti of Dartmouth, a co-author of Dr. Goldin’s, said that Dr. Goldin’s work has “shaped much of the current research on women and labor markets.” She pointed out that it continues to today: Dr. Goldin has just released a new working paper on why women made such great advances in the 1970s, and why that progress has hit roadblocks in the years since.

Dr. Goldin has also been an important mentor to many women entering the field of economics, she said.

“Claudia has been a source of inspiration to many women in economics, generously sharing her experiences and demonstrating the possibilities of success in a mostly male-dominated world,” Dr. Olivetti wrote in an email.

Leah Boustan, a professor at Princeton and once a student of Dr. Goldin’s, said that her work has had a “profound” influence on labor economics.

“The first thing I thought about when Claudia won is how much her research is still inspiring current work,” she said, explaining that her students today are still digging into how marriage, contraception and labor market decisions have interacted over time.

“There are so many threads that we as labor economists and economic historians can follow from Claudia’s work,” she said.

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