Claudia Goldin Wins the Nobel Prize in Economics

The workforce participation rate (WPR) for Indians over the last three years was 38.2%, 39.8% and 39.6% percent respectively. That data series is from 2019-20 until 2021-22.

Not great, you might think. Well, let’s drill down into the data.

What about men? The corresponding numbers were 53.9%, 54.9% and 54.8%.

And women? 21.8%, 24.2% and 24.0%.

Workforce Participation Rate in Percent (Source)

Later, after you’ve read this post, look at statement 6 (pp 48), statement 7 (pp 49), statement 8 (pp 51) and statement 9 (pp 52) from this report. Statement 9 tells us that female participation in the labor workforce is about half of the male participation… in rural areas. In urban areas? It is about one-third. This, to be clear, is official government data.

Take your time, and let that sink in: women simply do not participate as much in the labor workforce as men.

If you are anything like me, there must be one question in your mind, front and center.


There are lots of ways to begin to think about how to answer this question. You can ask what it is about Indian women that prevents them from entering the labor force. Is it of their own volition? Is it because of other factors? Might these factors be religious? Might they be cultural? Might they be biological? Might they be sociological? Might it be because of uniquely Indian factors, or might some of these factors be universal?

And if you ask yourself these questions, and then ask yourselves which economist has worked upon some of these issues – then one of the first names on your list has to be Claudia Goldin.

And that is the TMKK of this year’s Nobel Prize:

Globally, around half of all women are in paid employment, while the equivalent figure for men is eighty per cent. When women work, they usually earn less. Understanding how and why levels of employment and earnings differ between women and men is important for socioeconomic reasons, in both the short and long run, because the issue relates to the most efficient use of society’s resources. If women do not have the same opportunity to participate in the labour market, or they participate on unequal terms, labour and expertise are wasted. It is economically inefficient for jobs not to go to the most qualified person and, if pay differs for performing the same work, women may be disincentivized to work and have a career. By combining innovative methods in economic history with an economic approach, Goldin has demonstrated that several different factors have historically influenced – and still influence – the supply of and demand for female labour. These include women’s opportunities for combining paid work and a family, decisions relating to education and childrearing, technical innovations, laws and norms, and the structural transformation of the economy. In turn, her results have enabled a better understanding of how and why rates of employment and pay differ between women and men. To achieve these insights, Goldin looked back over two hundred years.

Please read the whole thing, I beseech you. I know I say this in practically every post that I write, but in this particular instance, I implore you to read the whole thing. Grab a cup of coffee, get 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, and read an excellent essay.

There are many puzzles in the world that we inhabit. Why women’s participation in the labor workforce has taken the paths that it has (over time, across nationalities and other facets besides) is one of the most important, urgent and pressing problems.

To give you just one puzzle from this field, here is a part of a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Claudia Goldin:

COWEN: When I read noneconomists on wage gaps, I see the word intersectionality very often — the notion that there’s some nonlinear effect created by combining different types of discrimination. What is your take on intersectionality? Does it play a role in your argument?
GOLDIN: I would like to take a small course on intersectionality because I’m not certain — if I model this as a theorist — where the sections are going to be and how I figure out how many sections I want.
Someone has a gender at birth, they have a decided gender perhaps, they have a race, they have where they grew up. Many of these have a religion. They have the education of their parents, [laughs] and many of these covary — they’re correlated

Now look at this table:

Do you see evidence for the “notion that there’s some nonlinear effect created by combining different types of discrimination”? How should we think about this issue? How should we tackle this issue? How important is this issue?

Bottomline: if you are a student of the Indian economy, you cannot afford to ignore the issue of gender economics. And if you are a student of gender economics, you cannot afford to not know about Claudia Goldin.

Links you might want to read:

  1. The NYT on this year’s Nobel Prize
  2. MR on Claudia Goldin (make sure you see the video!)
  3. Her faculty page at Harvard
  4. Her Google Scholar page
  5. The Amazon author page for Claudia Goldin
  6. A Fine Theorem on Claudia Goldin and the Nobel Prize
  7. Timothy Taylor on Claudia Goldin and the Nobel Prize
  8. A helpful conversation with ChatGPT about Claudia Goldin.

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