Who is Claudia Goldin? Learn about 2023 Nobel Laureate in Economics Claudia Goldin’s fascinating life story and her transformative work in economics!
Claudia Dale Goldin, born on May 14, 1946, is a distinguished American economic historian and labor economist currently holding the prestigious position of Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. In a momentous achievement, she was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in October 2023, recognizing her significant contributions to our understanding of women’s labor market outcomes. Notably, she is the first woman to receive this esteemed award as the sole recipient.
Goldin plays a pivotal role as a co-director of the NBER’s Gender in the Economy Study Group, and her influential leadership was apparent during her tenure as the director of the NBER’s Development of the American Economy program from 1989 to 2017. Her research portfolio spans a broad spectrum of critical subjects, encompassing aspects such as the female labor force, the gender wage gap, income inequality, technological advancements, education, and immigration. One of the defining features of her work is the application of historical insights to shed light on contemporary issues, exploring the roots of current concerns.
Her latest publication, “Career & Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity,” published by Princeton University Press on October 5, 2021, stands as a testament to her dedication to studying women’s work and labor market outcomes. Goldin’s remarkable impact on the fields of economics and economic history, particularly in understanding women’s roles in economic development, is indisputable.
In addition to her scholarly accomplishments, Goldin served as the president of the American Economic Association during the 2013–14 academic year, a testament to her standing in the academic community. Furthermore, in 1990, she achieved the historic milestone of becoming the first tenured woman within Harvard’s economics department.
Goldin, born in 1946 in New York City to a Jewish family, spent her childhood in the Parkchester housing complex in the Bronx. Her initial dream was to become an archaeologist, but her interest shifted towards bacteriology after reading Paul de Kruif’s book “The Microbe Hunters” during junior high school. She later attended a summer school course in microbiology at Cornell University during her junior year of high school, which further solidified her passion for the field. Following her graduation from the Bronx High School of Science, she enrolled at Cornell University with the intention of pursuing microbiology.
During her sophomore year at Cornell, Goldin took a course with Alfred Kahn, a professor who had a profound impact on her. Kahn’s enthusiasm for using economics to uncover hidden truths intrigued Goldin, leading her to explore topics in regulation and industrial organization, mirroring Kahn’s own interests. Her senior thesis focused on the regulation of communications satellites. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Cornell, she pursued a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago, originally with a focus on industrial organization.
During her doctoral studies, Goldin’s academic journey took a turn when she encountered Gary Becker at the University of Chicago. This encounter sparked her interest in labor economics, and she eventually shifted her focus to economic history under the guidance of Robert W. Fogel. Her doctoral dissertation delved into the topic of slavery in U.S. antebellum cities and the Southern industrial sector, culminating in her receiving a Ph.D. in 1972.
After completing her graduate studies, Goldin began her teaching career at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1972, she moved to Princeton University, and in 1979, she joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, where she achieved tenure as a full professor. In 1990, she made history as the first woman to be offered tenure in the economics department at Harvard University. Goldin has been an affiliated member of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) since 1978.
Goldin’s contributions to the field of economics extend beyond academia. She served as the president of the American Economic Association in 2013/14 and held the presidency of the Economic History Association in 1999/2000. Her impressive list of honors includes being elected a fellow of various prestigious organizations, such as the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the Society of Labor Economists, the Econometric Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is also a member of sections 53 and 54 of the National Academy of Sciences. Goldin has received numerous honorary doctorates from institutions including the University of Nebraska, Lund University, the European University Institute, the University of Zurich, Dartmouth College, and the University of Rochester. She served as an editor of the Journal of Economic History from 1984 to 1988 and as the editor of the NBER Long-term Factors in Economic Development Monograph Series from 1990 to 2017.
In 2015, Goldin launched the Undergraduate Women in Economics (UWE) Challenge with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This initiative aimed to investigate the reasons behind the low representation of female students in undergraduate economics majors. She conducted a randomized controlled trial involving twenty institutions, implementing low-cost interventions to assess their impact on increasing the number of female economics majors.
Career, Studies and Awards
Claudia Goldin is widely recognized for her significant contributions to the field of economic history, particularly her research on women’s roles in the economy. Her influential work encompasses various topics, such as the historical pursuit of careers and family life by women, coeducation in higher education, the impact of birth control pills on women’s career and marital decisions, the use of women’s surnames after marriage as a social indicator, the reasons behind the increasing number of female undergraduates, and the evolving patterns of women’s employment throughout their lives.
Goldin initially embarked on her academic journey by delving into the history of the Southern United States economy. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago ultimately became her first book, titled “Urban Slavery in the American South.” She collaborated with the late Frank Lewis on the widely referenced paper titled “The Economic Cost of the American Civil War” in 1978. Later, she teamed up with Kenneth Sokoloff to explore the early stages of industrialization in the United States, with a specific focus on the roles of female workers, child labor, and immigrant and working-class families. It was during this period that she recognized the underrepresentation of female workers in economic history and embarked on a journey to investigate the evolution of the female labor force and its contributions to economic growth. Some of her noteworthy papers from this research phase include “Monitoring Costs and Occupational Segregation by Sex” (1987), “Life Cycle Labor Force Participation of Married Women” (1989), and “The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women’s Employment” (1991). Her book “Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women” (1990) comprehensively narrates the rise of women’s employment in the United States from the 18th century to the late 20th century, its impact on economic growth, and the persistent gender disparities in earnings and employment.
Following her exploration of the economic history of female labor, Goldin shifted her research focus to the history of education in the United States. She began with a series of articles examining the high school movement and its influence on higher education in the country, culminating in her presidential address to the Economic History Association titled “The Human Capital Century and American Leadership: Virtues of the Past” in 2001. She collaborated with Lawrence Katz to investigate the history of economic inequality in America and its connection to advancements in education. Their extensive research led to numerous publications on this subject and culminated in the book “The Race between Education and Technology” in 2008. Additionally, they explored the value of a college education in the labor market in their 2016 paper titled “The Value of Postsecondary Credentials in the Labor Market: An Experimental Study.”
Goldin’s research continued to address various contemporary issues, many of which were incorporated into volumes she co-edited. These topics encompassed the origins of immigration restrictions, the establishment of unemployment insurance in the United States, and the role of the media in combating corruption.
Throughout this period, she also authored several significant papers on gender-related topics. One of her most cited papers, “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Effect of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians” (with Rouse, 2000), is highly regarded. Other pioneering works include “The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women’s Career and Marriage Decisions” (with Katz, 2002) and “The U-Shaped Female Labor Force Function in Economic Development and Economic History” (1995). Subsequently, Goldin delved into the study of college-educated women’s aspirations for career and family and the enduring gender wage gap. Her presidential address to the American Economic Association, titled “A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter,” outlined the necessary steps for achieving gender equality in the labor market. Her book “Career & Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity” provides a comprehensive historical account and concludes with an examination of the pandemic’s impact on women’s careers and family dynamics.
Claudia Goldin has received numerous accolades for her outstanding contributions to economics and economic history, including the Richard A. Lester Award for Outstanding Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics (1990 and 2008), the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award from the American Economic Association (2005), the R.R. Hawkins Award from the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (2008), the Jacob Mincer Award from the Society of Labor Economists (2009), the John R. Commons Award from Omicron Delta Epsilon (the economics honor society) (2009), the IZA Prize in Labor Economics (2016), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers in Knowledge Award in the category of Economics, Finance, and Management (2019), the Clarivate Citation laureate in Economic Sciences (2020), the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics (2020), the Society for Progress Medal (2021), the Richard A. Lester Book Award for the Outstanding Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics (2021), and the Visionary Award from the Council for Economic Education (2022). In 2023, she was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in recognition of her groundbreaking work.