Claudia Goldin, a professor at Harvard, became the first woman ever to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences individually, without co-winners, on October 9, when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences held up her work as generating “the first comprehensive account of women’s earnings and labour market participation through the centuries.” Goldin’s pioneering studies, conducted over more than three decades, have combined tools from history and economics to analyze the causes in the changes of women’s labor force participation over time and the main cause of the wage gap between men and women.
Goldin describes a U-shaped relationship between economic development and women’s labor participation based on data from more than 100 countries. Countries with low levels of economic development have relatively higher levels of female labor participation, as women are involved in agriculture, often as unpaid workers on family farms. As incomes rise due to industrialization and technology, women withdraw from paid work and move back into their homes. Their hours of work do not change, but their labor force participation does in what is known as the “income effect.” As countries develop and women become more educated, they return to paid work. Goldin explains this pattern as a result of structural changes and evolving social norms regarding women’s responsibilities in the home and family.
Examining the Wage Gap
In her 2021 book, “Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity,” she analyzes the wage gap among college-educated women in the United States since the 1900s. She observes that since the 2000s, the wage gap has stagnated, despite the fact that women today have on average higher levels of education than men. This gender gap persists in almost all occupations, even when considering age, race and education, a phenomenon she explains by employers’ emphasis on long work hours and work continuity together with the demand for women to serve as caregivers at home. In the same work, Goldin shows how the wage gap between men and women is due less and less to differences in education and occupation, and more and more to wage differences within the same occupation.
What are we doing at the IDB to apply the Goldin’s ideas? Are her results, primarily achieved using US data, applicable in developing countries such as those of Latin America and the Caribbean? How are gender inequalities at work related to household chores? These are fundamental questions for inclusive development.
The IDB’s Role in Gender-Orientated Labor Market Studies
The IDB Group’s Gender and Diversity Knowledge Initiative (GDLab) promotes high-impact research for a more inclusive society in Latin America and the Caribbean. It focuses on gender disparities and inequalities in groups such as those comprised of indigenous people, Afro-descendants, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals, contributing to the design of high-impact policies and reforms, as well as the IDB Group’s operations in the region.
On gender issues, studies funded through calls for proposals open to researchers in the region, have examined the recovery of women’s jobs since COVID and the eradication of gender-based violence. Other similarly funded research projects include those that have probed the gender-related labor impacts of the COVID pandemic in Uruguay; the impact of a gender-orientated management training program in Colombia on productivity, managerial gender balance, and women’s empowerment in the workplace; and the effectiveness of different nudges aimed at increasing women’s employability and job quality in Bolivia. Another study looks at how working from home shapes gender and racial inequalities in the Brazilian labor market. Goldin’s outstanding work has been fundamental in understanding how women’s labor force participation and their aspirations for better pay and promotions have been thwarted by structural factors and essential in suggesting how greater equality might be achieved. It includes factors that we recognize in our region and a path towards progress that we eagerly pursue.