Published 23 November 2023 by Phil Thornton

Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences 2023: Uncovering the Key Drivers Behind Gender Differences in Pay and Employment

Stereotypic image of the gender pay gap, but still actual. Photo/Credit: Wirestock/iStockphoto

United States-based economist Claudia Goldin, who has become the first woman to win the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences solo, will receive the award for her pioneering research that explained why gender differences in earnings and employment rates had changed over time.

Goldin, aged 77, a professor at Harvard University, will get the award and the 11 million Swedish kroner prize for “having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

The members of the Prize Committee said Goldin showed that the bulk of the gender gap in earnings was now between men and women in the same occupation and that it largely arose from the birth of the first child.

Factors and Barriers to Address

“Thanks to Claudia Goldin’s ground-breaking research we now know much more about the underlying factors and which barriers may need to be addressed in the future,” said Jakob Svensson, chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences.

Goldin started her research career looking at the economic cost of urban slavery and the civil war – the subject of her doctorate – before realising that women had been overlooked in economic research.

As a doctoral student at Chicago, Goldin’s focus shifted to labour economics after future Laureate Gary Becker arrived on campus. She was also inspired by future Laureate Robert Fogel, who advised on her dissertation.

She painstakingly went through 200 years of US records and found that female participation in the labour market did not have an upward trend over this entire period, but instead formed a U-shaped curve.

Transition of Society

The participation of married women in the labour force fell with the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society in the early nineteenth century, but then started to increase with the growth of the services sector in the early twentieth century. Her research ultimately led to her 1990 book, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women.

Goldin explained this pattern was the result of structural change and evolving social norms regarding women’s responsibilities for home and family. Women’s education levels continuously increased, and in most high-income countries were now substantially higher than for men.

Power of the Pill

Oral contraceptive, the pill for one month
Oral contraceptives had a huge impact on women’s decisions. Photo/Credit: shawshot/iStockphoto

In a paper The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women’s Career and Marriage Decisions, written jointly with her husband and fellow Harvard economist Lawrence Katz, Goldin demonstrated that access to the contraceptive pill played an important role in accelerating this revolutionary change by offering new opportunities for career planning.

Speaking with’s Adam Smith on the morning she learned the news, Goldin said the award meant a “tremendous amount” to her. “It means a lot because it’s an award for big ideas and for long-term change,” she said.

She said she had seen herself as a detective since high school. “I’ve always wanted to be a detective. I do my detective work with archival documents, with large amounts of data.”

“It’s dirty work. But the point of being a detective means that you have a question, and the question is so important that you will go to any end to find it. Sometimes questions are so large and so important that no one’s going to tell you that you can’t answer them.”

Statements From the Scientific World

Her award won plaudits from across the academic world. Claudine Gay, Harvard’s president and a political scientist, described Goldin as a pioneering economist. “Her ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of the gender wage gap and patterns of women’s participation in the labour market have helped deepen awareness of these issues and made progress possible,” she said.

Professor Robert Shimer, chair of the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at the University of Chicago, said Goldin’s work followed “very naturally from the mesh” between fellow Laureates Fogel and Becker.

“A theme of her work is the idea that if you don’t change gender imbalances within the household, then you’re not going to be able to change gender imbalances in the workplace,” he said. “To me, this very much shows the empirical relevance of the ideas that Gary Becker talked about.”

Two of her former students and now fellow scholars, Princeton University economics professors Leah Boustan and Ilyana Kuziemko, said on the CEPR’s VoxEU blog that her intellectual influence went far beyond the study of gender gaps.

“Much of Claudia’s work on both gender gaps and inequality more generally has focused on the role of education, and perhaps it is thus no surprise that she is the consummate teacher, adviser and mentor. It is undeniable that she inspired countless women to pursue the study of economics. We are so lucky to be among them.”

Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. She was born in New York City in 1946 and was awarded her PhD by the University of Chicago in 1972. Goldin is a co-director of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Gender in the Economy Study Group and was the president of the American Economic Association in the 2013–14 academic year.

Phil Thornton

Phil Thornton is lead consultant at Clarity Economics, a consultancy and freelance writing service he set up after a 15-year career as a newspaper journalist. Clarity Economics ( looks at all areas of business and economics including macroeconomics, world trade, financial markets, fiscal policy, and tax and regulation. He has written for a range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Financial Director, Emerging Markets, City AM and PM-Select. He writes a regular economics column for Procurement Leaders. Recent projects include a series of reports looking at the position of ethnic minority groups within the UK workforce for Business in the Community; drawing up proposals for reform of the EU Budget for Business for a New Europe; and an examination of lessons learned 20 years after Big Bang for The Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation. In 2010 he won the Feature Journalist of the Year award in the WorkWorld Media Awards. In 2007 he won the title of Print Journalist of the Year in the same awards. Until 2007 he was Economics Correspondent at The Independent newspaper of London, a post he held for eight years.