Professor Marianne Bertrand describes the contributions of Claudia Goldin, this year’s Nobel prize winner in economics, as well as her relationship with Goldin as a colleague.
This piece originally appeared at the Chicago Booth Review.
Claudia Goldin is a true original.
Harvard’s Goldin, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday, has for decades been a leading force both in demonstrating what it means to be a great economist and in promoting other women to follow her into the field.
In focusing her work on making sense of women’s engagement with and participation in labor markets, and women’s progress in education, Goldin created a now-well-populated field. She changed economics by making it acceptable and mainstream for other researchers to work on these topics. From today’s perspective, it may seem odd that economics had been so accustomed to ignoring why half of the world faced struggles integrating into the marketplace, but that is one sign of how effective she has been in opening the discipline up. Because of her, some of the most exciting young labor economists working now are studying questions of gender.
Goldin, who earned her master’s and PhD at the University of Chicago, combines three great skills: the ability to home in on well-defined microeconomic research projects, the expertise of a historian, and the power to convey her ideas in brilliant prose. An example is her 2000 paper with Princeton’s Cecilia Rouse, “Orchestrating Impartiality,” in which they found that after orchestras began to audition candidates behind a screen to conceal their identity, women musicians became 50 percent more likely to advance out of certain preliminary audition rounds, and were more likely to be hired in the final round. Discrimination is not really central to Goldin’s research agenda, so the paper was something of a one-off. However, it encapsulated perfectly how discriminatory forces work. The paper also showcased Goldin’s abilities as a historian, the way she looks at the data and uses them to craft a narrative. And it’s written in a clear, compelling way that makes it a pleasure to read.
On top of being an outstanding scholar, Goldin is well organized and generous with her time. She was a highly effective president of the American Economic Association in 2013, a prestigious but somewhat thankless job that she performed in a proactive way.
Goldin and I first interacted when I was conducting research on CEO pay. I ended up publishing a paper in 2000 with Kevin F. Hallock, now at the University of Richmond, that found that top women executives earned about 45 percent less than their male counterparts over the period 1992–97. Three-quarters of the gap could be explained by the facts that women managed smaller companies and were less likely to be CEO, chair, or company president. At the time, it seemed to us low-hanging fruit. No economists were discussing the lack of representation of women in the C-suite.
It was my first foray into thinking about gender and economics. On the back of that, Goldin contacted me, and we ended up publishing a paper in 2010 with Harvard’s Lawrence F. Katz that found that women who graduated with an MBA from Chicago Booth earned 50 percent less than their male classmates a decade after graduating. This triggered a lot of follow-on work by me and other scholars. Goldin has, therefore, played an instrumental role in some of the research I’ve been doing over the past decade or so.
As my career has progressed, I’ve come to know more and more people who have received the Nobel economics prize. On the day, I send them an email congratulating them, never expecting to get a thank you, and sometimes receiving one the following January. On Monday morning, I sent one to Claudia Goldin; within five seconds, she wrote back with her thanks. That’s Goldin for you.
Articles represent the opinions of their writers, not necessarily those of the University of Chicago, the Booth School of Business, or its faculty.