By Whitney Akinyi

Claudia Goldin, an economist, Harvard University, US is the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences referred to as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize. She received the award for her research on women’s labor market outcomes.

Goldin’s groundbreaking work has shed light on the key drivers behind gender differences in the labor market. Her research has not only provided a comprehensive account of women’s earnings and labor market participation throughout history but has also unveiled the root causes of change and the primary sources of the remaining gender gap.

One of the alarming issues she has addressed in her research is the underrepresentation of women in the global labor market and the persistent wage gap between men and women. Through extensive archival research spanning over 200 years, she has meticulously demonstrated how and why gender disparities in earnings and employment rates have evolved over time.

Goldin unveiled a U-shaped curve in female labor market participation over the years. This curve indicates that the participation of married women declined during the transition from agrarian to industrial societies in the early nineteenth century.

However, it began to rise again with the growth of the service sector in the early twentieth century. She attributes this pattern to structural changes and evolving social norms regarding women’s roles in home and family life.

In the twentieth century, women’s educational levels saw a continuous rise, surpassing those of men in most high-income countries. Her research highlights the pivotal role played by the contraceptive pill in accelerating this significant shift, offering women new opportunities for career planning.

Despite the modernization of societies, economic growth, and a rise in the number of employed women in the twentieth century, the earnings gap between men and women remained stubbornly wide for a significant period.

Goldin’s insights suggest that a part of the explanation lies in the fact that educational decisions, which shape a lifetime of career opportunities, are made at a relatively young age. Expectations and choices are often influenced by the experiences of previous generations, such as mothers who delayed their return to work until their children had grown up.

Historically, differences in education and occupational choices explained much of the gender earnings gap. However, her research reveals a shift in this pattern. Today, the bulk of the earnings difference is found between men and women in the same occupation, particularly arising with the birth of the first child.

“Understanding women’s role in the labor market is crucial for society. Thanks to Claudia Goldin’s groundbreaking research, we now possess a deeper understanding of the underlying factors and the barriers that may need to be addressed in the future,” said Jakob Svensson, Chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences.

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

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