The Nobel Committee awarded its prize for economics to Harvard University professor Claudia Goldin, making her the third woman to have won the award, “for having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes.”
Goldin’s work chronicled the gap between women and men in the workplace just as they have gained rights over the past century that should put them on the same level as their male counterparts at work. Parenthood and inflexible work patterns hurt women’s earnings while barely affecting fathers at the same level of education.
“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,” the Nobel Committee noted in its citation announcing the award.
“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,” it added.
In one study, Goldin and her collaborators found that the responsibility of caring for children tends to fall to mothers and impacts their ability to fully catch up to their male colleagues at work when it comes to their earnings.
“We find that hours of paid work initially plummet with motherhood…but increase as the youngest child begins school and eventually graduates secondary school,” they wrote. “Mothers increase their work time as the children grow up, but they are still behind fathers.”
The years of raising children hurt women while men actually earn a premium. Men out-earn their female counterparts without children, Goldin’s research found.
“For men, having the children and a wife who is the caregiver is related to their earnings boost,” Goldin and her colleagues wrote. “Put simply: the motherhood penalty becomes very small as the children grow up, but the fatherhood advantage remains large and increases with age, especially among college graduates.”
The lack of universal childcare in the U.S. hurts women and in turn damages the country’s economy, as research by Oxford Economics illustrated last week. More women joining the labor force could substantially add to U.S. economic growth and mitigate against a recession.
“By far the overwhelming factor depressing labor force participation for women relative to men is that women are far more likely to drop out due to family responsibilities,” Oxford Economics wrote.
Golding told The New York Times that the residue of history in the way parental responsibilities are shared in the home shaped the way men and women are able to earn throughout their lifetimes.
“We’re never going to have gender equality until we also have couple equity,” she said.
At a press conference after learning of her win, she told reporters that her work was about representing women in economics.
“I have worked very hard to try to change the representation of women in economics,” Goldin said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Economics is about people. It’s about inequality. It’s about the female labor force. It’s about health. It’s about well being.”
The Nobel Committee lauded her focus on women and their place in the labor market.
“Understanding women’s role in the labour is important for society. Thanks to Claudia Goldin’s groundbreaking research we now know much more about the underlying factors and which barriers may need to be addressed in the future,” Jakob Svensson, chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences, said in a statement.