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Pay gap ‘detective’ Claudia Goldin has won the Nobel in Economics

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Harvard Professor Claudia Goldin has been awarded the top prize in economics for her investigations into the gender pay gap — the difference between how much men and women are paid.
goldin pay gap

Harvard Professor Claudia Goldin has been awarded the top prize in economics for her investigations into the gender pay gap — the difference between how much men and women are paid.

Nicknamed “detective”, she is credited with uncovering the reasons for gendered pay differences.

Goldin is the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for economics outright. Two women have previously shared the prize with colleagues.

Here’s what her research has found.

The ‘U-shape’

In her work, Goldin describes the history of women in the U.S. workforce using a ‘U-shape’.

In the early 1800s, most women were in paid work, typically on farms. This began to shift as the U.S. economy moved away from farming and into factories. By 1910, fewer than 1 in 10 women were in paid work.

The third phase, which picked up momentum later into the 20th century, saw women return to paid work in large numbers, which remains true today.

Gender pay gap

As more women entered paid work between the 1930s and the 80s, the pay gap between men and women did not initially change.

Goldin identified a ‘lag’ in education decisions as a key reason for this.

Even as societal attitudes started to shift in favour of women working, women were held back in their careers by limited education opportunities in their childhood and adolescence, before attitudes shifted.

The pill

Goldin identified the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s as a key historic development in narrowing the gender pay gap.

By allowing women to plan their pregnancies, the pill also allowed women to plan their careers with more certainty.

This also empowered more women to pursue higher education.

The parenting pay gap

The availability of contraception led to a partial closing of the gender pay gap.

However, a gap remains across the world, even between men and women in the same line of work. Goldin identified parenting as the key cause of this.

Women continue to take on more unpaid caring responsibility for children than men, which can lead to some women reducing their working hours or missing out on career advancement, for example by missing out on a promotion while on maternity leave.

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