The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2023 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel to Claudia Goldin “for having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes.”
Economic sciences laureate, Claudia Goldin provided the first comprehensive account of women’s earnings and labour market participation through the centuries. By trawling through the archives and compiling and correcting historical data, Goldin has been able to present new and often surprising facts. The fact that women’s choices have often been, and remain, limited by marriage and responsibility for the home and family is at the heart of her analyses and explanatory models.
Her insights reach far outside the borders of the US and similar patterns have been observed in many other countries. Her research brings us a better understanding of the labour markets of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Women are vastly underrepresented in the global labour market and, when they work, they earn less than men. Claudia Goldin has trawled the archives and collected over 200 years of data from the US, allowing her to demonstrate how and why gender differences in earnings and employment rates have changed over time.
Goldin showed that female participation in the labour market did not have an upward trend over this entire period, but instead forms a U-shaped curve. The participation of married women decreased with the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society in the early nineteenth century, but then started to increase with the growth of the service sector in the early twentieth century. Goldin explained this pattern as the result of structural change and evolving social norms regarding women’s responsibilities for home and family.
During the twentieth century, women’s education levels continuously increased, and in most high-income countries they are now substantially higher than for men. Goldin demonstrated that access to the contraceptive pill played an important role in accelerating this revolutionary change by offering new opportunities for career planning.
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. According to Goldin, part of the explanation is that educational decisions, which impact a lifetime of career opportunities, are made at a relatively young age. If the expectations of young women are formed by the experiences of previous generations – for instance, their mothers, who did not go back to work until the children had grown up – then development will be slow.
Historically, much of the gender gap in earnings could be explained by differences in education and occupational choices. However, Goldin has shown that the bulk of this earnings difference is now between and women in the same occupation, and that it largely arises with the birth of the first child.