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Claudia Goldin wins Nobel for ‘detective’ work on women in labour market, discoveries that ‘have vast societal implications’

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The Nobel Economics Prize was on Monday awarded to American economist Claudia Goldin for her research that has helped understand the role of women in the labour market.

The 77-year-old Harvard professor, who is the third woman to be awarded the prestigious economics prize, was given the nod “for having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes,” the jury said.

“Claudia Goldin’s discoveries have vast societal implications”, said Randi Hjalmarsson, member of the Economic Prize committee. “By finally understanding the problem and calling it by the right name, we will be able to pave a better route forward”.

Globally, about 50 per cent of women participate in the labour market compared to 80 per cent of men, but women earn less and are less likely to reach the top of the career ladder, the prize committee noted.

The Nobel Prize in economics has the fewest number of women laureates, with just two others since it was first awarded in 1969 – Elinor Ostrom in 2009 and Esther Duflo in 2019.

Goldin has “trawled the archives and collected over 200 years of data from the US,” the jury said.

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“She studied something that many people, many historians, for instance, simply decided not to study before because they didn’t think these data existed,” Nobel committee member Randi Hjalmarsson said, calling Goldin “a detective”.

The jury highlighted that Goldin’s work’s “provided the first comprehensive account of women’s earnings and labour market participation through the centuries.”

It noted that despite modernisation – coupled with economic growth and a rising proportion of women in the labour market – the earnings gap between men and women hardly closed for a long time.

“According to Goldin, part of the explanation is that educational decisions, which impact a lifetime of career opportunities, are made at a relatively young age,” the jury noted.

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While much of the earnings gap historically could be explained by differences in education and occupational choices, Goldin “has shown that the bulk of this earnings difference is now between men and women in the same occupation, and that it largely arises with the birth of the first child”.

The important point is that both lose. Men forgo time with their family and women often forgo their career

Claudia Goldin, winner of the Nobel Economics Prize

She has attributed the gap to factors ranging from outright discrimination to phenomena such as “greedy work”, a term she coined for jobs that pay disproportionately more per hour when someone works longer or has less control over those hours – effectively penalising women who need to seek flexible labour.

“The important point is that both lose”, she last year. “Men forgo time with their family and women often forgo their career”.

Goldin’s work also demonstrated that “access to the contraceptive pill” played an important role in accelerating the increase in education levels during the 20th century, by “offering new opportunities for career planning,” according to the Nobel committee.

Claudia Goldin speaks to a reporter on the phone in her home after learning she received the Nobel Prize in Economic. Photo: AP

“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.

The economics prize is the only prize not among the original five set out by the will of Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896.

It was instead created through a donation from the Swedish central bank in 1968, and detractors have thus dubbed it “a false Nobel”.

However, just like the other science prizes the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences selects the laureate and the nomination process follows the same procedures.

Along with a prize sum of 11 million Swedish kronor (about US$1 million), the Nobel comes with a gold medal and a diploma which laureates receive from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a lavish prize ceremony in Stockholm.

The prestigious Peace Prize on Friday went to imprisoned Iranian women’s rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi.

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2023 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Iranian women’s rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi

2023 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Iranian women’s rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi

Earlier in the week, Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse was rewarded in literature.

The Chemistry Prize was awarded to Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov for their work on nanoparticles called quantum dots.

In physics, Anne L’Huillier, Pierre Agostini and Ferenc Krausz were honoured for using ultra-quick light flashes that enable the study of electrons inside atoms and molecules.

The Medicine Prize, the first to be announced, went to a duo – Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman – for their groundbreaking technology that paved the way for mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.

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