Goldin Took Women’s Careers From Economic Sideshow to Mainstream

Economics is still a male-dominated profession. Among full professors, only 1 out of every 8 is a woman. Among assistant professors, women are a little less than 1 in 3, similar to their share of undergraduate economics majors. It is a field that has struggled to appeal to women and struggled to retain the women who find it appealing.

When Claudia Goldin, who was just awarded the 2023 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, studied economics in the 1960s, first as an undergraduate at Cornell and later as a PhD student at the University of Chicago, women were even scarcer. The American Economic Association didn’t start formally publishing the number of females in the profession until 1972 when women made up just 7.2% of new PhDs and 2.4% of full professors.

It must have taken a lot of grit back then to dig through archives and document facts about “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870 to 1920” and “The Economic Status of Women in the Early Republic.”

She not only had to count on men to read these papers and decide to publish them. She had to count on the good opinion of men who had studied work extensively, but rarely given a second thought to how food got on the table, clothes got on backs, or the next generation was nurtured.

Goldin was documenting the changing roles of women in society at a time when many male economists just didn’t care. Today, it might seem crazy that male economists once thought women were mostly irrelevant to important things like the macroeconomy. But if it is confusing to you, that’s because of Claudia Goldin and the army of economists that she has trained to see the world differently.

Even while her work was revolutionary, it built on the work of the economists who came before her, highlighting how scholars can pave the way for the next generation. Gary Becker rejoined the faculty at the University of Chicago when she was a student. He went on to win the Nobel for applying the tools of economics to answer broader questions about human behavior. Goldin’s dissertation adviser Robert Fogel won the 1993 Nobel Prize in economics for “renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change.”