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Nobel Prize in economics goes to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's one of the stories we're covering today. The Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded today to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, recognized for her research on women in the workplace. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is her work about?

HORSLEY: You know, she studied the evolution of working women over the centuries, why they are often underrepresented in the labor force and why even in developed economies like here in the United States, working women tend to earn less than their male counterparts. Randi Hjalmarsson, who's a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, says Goldin developed a framework that helps to explain those changes, which are shaped in part by women's expectations about their opportunities, both on the job and at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RANDI HJALMARSSON: She can explain why the gender gap in earnings suddenly started to close in the 1980s and the surprising role of the birth control pill and changing expectations. And she can explain why the earnings gap has stopped closing today.

HORSLEY: A lot of that lingering pay gap stems from the larger role that women typically play in child rearing.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, let's talk about that. When we say the earnings gap has stopped closing today, what is the evidence of that in recent years?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, just for example, in the early months of the pandemic, we saw women leaving the workforce in droves. And their presence has only recently recovered. You know, when schools were shuttered, it was often moms rather than dads who took on primary responsibility for supervising at-home schooling. As Goldin told my NPR colleague Stacey Vanek Smith back in 2021, that period was a wake-up call for a lot of families and for a lot of employers. One positive result is that many workers now enjoy a little more flexibility on the job, which makes it a bit easier to juggle work and family responsibilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CLAUDIA GOLDIN: There is a silver lining to our terrible pandemic year, and that is that I think we have reduced the price of what I'll call flexibility and reduced the need for as many greedy jobs.

HORSLEY: Just before the pandemic, Steve, women briefly outnumbered men on U.S. payrolls, and the ranks of working women are expected to grow. You know, women already fill more than half the seats in college classrooms. They tend to dominate a lot of the service sector jobs that are some of the fastest-growing parts of the economy. But to take full advantage of that highly skilled female workforce, Goldin says, we're going to have to make some choices as society. And that might include, for example, improved childcare.

INSKEEP: Scott, I want to take note of something here. This is obviously an important topic that affects all of society - millions and millions of people. But one might say we kind of already knew this, understood that there is this pay gap and some of the reasons why. What is it about Goldin's work that has made it worthy of the - worthy of this Nobel Prize, according to the committee?

HORSLEY: You know, people have recognized the gender pay gap, and it was often sort of just chalked up to either occupational choices or rank discrimination. What Goldin did was to tease out the various sources of it. And by helping us to understand those sources, she said we are better able to find remedies for it. She's going to receive, by the way, the full 11 million kronor that goes with the Nobel Prize. There is no gender pay gap when it comes to the economic...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) That's good...

HORSLEY: ...Prize money.

INSKEEP: ...That's good. For her work that, as you note here, involves census records going all the way back to the 1800s. Scott, thank you so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOUDKICKER'S "GARAGE SHOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.