Claudia Goldin’s Nobel-Winning Research Shows ‘Why Women Won’
Claudia Goldin, who won the Nobel Prize in economics on Monday, has documented the journey of American women from, in her words, holding jobs to pursuing careers — working not just to support themselves, but because work is a fundamental aspect of their identity and satisfaction.
She has described the changing roles of women in the last half-century as “among the grandest advances in society and the economy.” She has shown how they have outpaced men in education, poured into the labor force and found meaning in their work.
Yet, her research demonstrates, women still lag behind men in various ways — in their pay, their work force participation and the share who reach the top of professions.
That’s no fault of their own, her recent work has shown. It’s because of the way work is structured. American jobs disproportionately reward long hours. The most glaring gender gaps would diminish, she has argued, if employees had more control over where and when their work got done.
Women’s work was not given full credit in historical sources, the Nobel committee noted, and she used historical data to describe it. Her research analyzes cohorts of women born around the same time to show shifting patterns, and the societal forces that affected them.
Women “gave birth to modern labor economics,” Professor Goldin, who teaches at Harvard, has written, because economists study variations in behavior. “Women provided an abundance of that,” she wrote. “Men, by and large, were not as interesting since their participation and hours varied far less.”
In public records in the 1800s, married women’s occupation was often listed as “wife.” She uncovered other sources of data to show that, in fact, they often worked in agriculture and other family businesses.
Industrialization, however, made it less likely for married women to work (though unmarried women commonly worked in factories.) She posited that, unlike farming, manufacturing work was harder to do from home, foreshadowing the struggles balancing work and family life that mothers face today.
In the first half of the 20th century, societal changes made it possible for more women to work. These shifts included the rise in high school graduation rates, technological advances that made housework less demanding, and the growth of office jobs.