Goldin Awarded Economics Nobel Prize for Gender-Gap Work

Claudia Goldin became the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics as the US academic was awarded for her research into the factors that explain pay and employment gaps between men and women.

(Bloomberg) — Claudia Goldin became the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics as the US academic was awarded for her research into the factors that explain pay and employment gaps between men and women.

Goldin, a professor at Harvard University, will receive a 11 million-krona ($1 million) award, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm said Monday in a statement. 

“Understanding women’s role in the labor market is important for society,” said Jakob Svensson, chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences. “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.” 

Born in 1946 in New York, Goldin used more than 200 years of data to show that while the pay gaps could historically be explained by differences in education and occupational choices, they now exist mainly between men and women in the same jobs, and arise with the birth of the first child.

That understanding provides a basis for policymakers globally to address the situation, according to Randi Hjalmarsson, a professor of economics at the University of Gothenburg.  

“She’s shown us that this is the result attributed to parenthood — that men and women graduating, say from high-educated degrees like an MBA, have the same salary at the start,” she said in an interview after announcing the award. “And they walk hand in hand in salaries until all of a sudden the woman has a baby, and that’s when the gap in earnings emerges.” 

Goldin combined innovative methods in economic history with an economic approach, demonstrating that the supply and demand for female labor have historically been influenced by their opportunities for combining paid work and a family, decisions relating to education and childrearing, technical innovations such as the contraceptive pill, laws and norms, and the structural transformation of the economy.

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She also revealed “a surprising new historical fact: prior to the rise of industrialization in the nineteenth century, women were more likely to participate in the labor force,” the academy said. That was in part because “industrialization made it harder for many married women to work from home and so combine work and family,” compared with life on the family farm.

About 50% of women work or actively seek work for income, compared with 80% of men, the academy said. Gender differences in participation are fundamentally driven by variation in women’s participation rates – men’s participation rates are broadly constant across time and countries. 

Across the OECD, women earn 13% less than men on average, it said. Women tend to work in jobs with less room for promotion and are severely underrepresented on corporate boards or as chief executives.

The difference in pay between men and women could be reduced if employers allowed staff more flexibility in choosing their working hours, Goldin said in a 2014 address to the American Economic Association. Wage gaps are smaller in industries with more flexible schedules, such as healthcare and technology, she said.

Goldin’s most recent paper, “Why Women Won,” was published last month and chronicles how women achieved equal rights to men in various parts of the US economy and society. It identifies 155 critical moments in women’s rights history 1905 to 2023, 45% of which occurred between 1963 and 1973.

“A substantial group of women emerged in the 1970s to oppose various rights for women, just as they did during the suffrage movement,” she wrote. “They remain a potent force today.”

Goldin follows two other women — Elinor Ostrom in 2009 and Esther Duflo in 2019 — in being awarded the prize in economic sciences.

Last year’s laureates were Ben Bernanke, Douglas W. Diamond and Philip H. Dybvig for research on banks and financial crises. Previous recipients of the accolade include Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Milton Friedman and Robert J. Shiller.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896.

The economic sciences award was added by Sweden’s central bank in 1968, called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

–With assistance from Thomas Hall, Ott Ummelas, Love Liman and Rich Miller.

(Updates with quotes, details starting in sixth paragraph.)

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