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Economics Nobel Prize goes to Claudia Goldin, an expert on women at work

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin. The committee cited her research on generations of women in the labor market.
George Freston
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The 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin. The committee cited her research on generations of women in the labor market.

Updated October 9, 2023 at 7:01 AM ET

Harvard University's Claudia Goldin has won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics for her research on women in the labor market. She studies the changing role of working women through the centuries, and the causes of the persistent pay gap between men and women.

The award — formally known as The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel — comes with a prize of 11 million kronor, or about $1 million. Goldin is the third woman to receive the prize.

"Claudia Goldin's discoveries have vast society implications," said Randi Hjalmarsson, a member of the Nobel committee. "She has shown us that the nature of this problem or the source of these underlying gender gaps changes throughout history and with the course of development."

Goldin's research showed that women's role in the job market has not moved in a straight line, but has waxed and waned in line with social norms and women's own ideas about their prospects in the workplace and the home. Some of these ideas are shaped early in life and are slow to change.

"She can explain why the gender gap suddenly started to close in the 1980s and the surprising role of the birth control pill and changing expectation," Hjalmarsson said. "And she can explain why the earnings gap has stopped closing today and the role of parenthood."

Tracing the history of women in the workplace was easier said than done. The Nobel committee said Goldin often had to contend with spotty records.

Gender pay gap remains

Women currently fill nearly half the jobs in the U.S. but typically earn less. They briefly outnumbered men on payrolls in late 2019 and early 2020, but women dropped out of the workforce in large numbers early in the pandemic, and their ranks have only recently recovered.

In a 2021 interview with NPR, Goldin offered a recipe for narrowing the pay gap between men and women: more government funding of child care and more jobs in which people could share duties rather than what she termed "greedy jobs".

"The solution isn't a simple one, but part of it is reducing the value of these 'greedy jobs,' getting jobs in which individuals are very good substitutes for each other and can trade off," she said. "And I know there are people who will tell me this is impossible. But in fact, it's done in obstetrics. It's done in anesthesiology. It's done in pediatrics. It's done in veterinary medicine. It's done in various banking decisions. And if it can be done in all of that with all the amazing IT that we have, we could probably do it elsewhere as well. "

Some forecasters think women's role in the workplace will continue to grow as they surpass men on college campuses and as service-oriented fields such as health care expand.

"Understanding women's role in labor is important for society," said Jakob Svensson, chair of the prize committee. "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."

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.