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Image credit: Harvard University

It is the second Nobel prize this year to shine the spotlight on women. Last week, human rights activist Narges Mohammadi won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran.

Goldin is only the third woman to receive the Nobel economics prize. Dating back to the 1980s, her extensive historical and economic research examined why fewer women work than men, why they earn less than their male counterparts and why there is a glass ceiling.

Obtaining the historical data proved to be difficult. Goldin had to dig deep into the archives to find information, which she then also had to interpret. The results, however, shed new light on history.


Her research found that women’s labour market participation did not ‘continually increase’ during the last two centuries. Instead, the curve is U-shaped. In the 1800s, married women started to work less after the arrival of industrialisation. Their employment did not pick up again until later as the service economy grew.

Goldin found that women’s labour participation does not keep pace with economic growth. Her research showed that this is influenced by all manner of laws, cultural opinions and circumstances. The arrival of the contraceptive pill, for example, was very important, allowing women to make further strides.

There is still a ‘gender pay gap’, which can no longer be blamed on women’s educational levels or career choices. Goldin showed that the defining moment for the emergence of the earnings gap is when couples first have a child.

The body responsible for awarding the prize in economic sciences said that thanks to her research, we know much more about the underlying factors and barriers we need to address in the future.

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