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Harvard Professor Awarded Nobel Prize for Wage Gap Research


Small figurines of business people sitting on top of stacks of coins.

​Harvard University professor Claudia Goldin is the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in economics for her study into the drivers of the gender pay gap. The Royal Swedish Academy announced the award Oct. 9, citing Goldin's work "for having advanced our understanding of women's labor market outcomes."

"By trawling through the archives and compiling and correcting historical data, Goldin has been able to present new and often surprising facts," the Academy said in a press release announcing the award. "The fact that women's choices have often been, and remain, limited by marriage and responsibility for the home and family is at the heart of her analyses and explanatory models."

The pay gap between men and women has barely budged in 20 years, SHRM Online reported in March, citing Pew Research Center findings ahead of Equal Pay Day.

Goldin's research traced how women's labor participation decreased as the world transitioned from an agrarian to an industrial society and increased with the growth of the service sector and access to contraceptives that allowed them to plan their childbearing years. Part of the reason the gender wage gap hardly closed for a long period of time was due to the educational decisions young women made—at a relatively young age—that "impact a lifetime of career opportunities," Goldin found.

Now much of the earnings difference is between men and women in the same occupation and is largely associated with the birth of their first child, according to her findings.

Goldin's research "has provided the first comprehensive account of women's earnings and labor market outcomes through the centuries," said Jakob Svensson, chair of the committee for the prize in economic sciences, during a press conference.

"Her research reveals new patterns, it identifies causes of change but also speaks to the main sources of the remaining gender gaps," he said. "Understanding women's role in the labor market is important for society—not the least because if women do not have the same opportunity as men or they participate on unequal terms, labor, skills and talent go wasted. "Thanks to Professor Goldin's groundbreaking research, we know much more about the underlying factors driving women's labor market outcomes and which barriers need to be addressed in the future."

The Academy noted that insights from her research "reach far outside the borders of the U.S. and similar patterns have been observed in many other countries."

The prize in economic sciences has been awarded to 93 people since 1901—only three recipients have been women. Goldin, 77, is the first sole female recipient.

She is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and was the director of the National Bureau of Economic Research's (NBER's) Development of the American Economy program from 1989 to 2017. She is a co-director of the NBER's Gender in the Economy group and the author of Career & Family: Women's Century-Long Journey toward Equity (Princeton University Press, 2021).


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