Professor Randi Hjalmarsson on the Prize in Economic Sciences: “An honor to present the prize and work of Claudia Goldin”
Randi Hjalmarsson, Professor of Economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law in Gothenburg, introduced Claudia Goldin, this year's laureate of the Prize in Economic Sciences, at the prize press conference. Here, she discusses the work behind the award and her experience as a member of the prize committee.
Claudia Goldin praised you for fielding questions at the prize press conference after she got disconnected. She called you incredible and excellent, what is your reaction to that?
– It was incredibly rewarding to know that Claudia Goldin approved of how I presented and interpreted her work. I am sure she would have done a much better job at answering the questions than I did, and I really look forward to hearing her present her own work when she visits Stockholm in December.
How does the committee select a laureate?
– The prize committee works year round, starting in September of each year with the confidential solicitation of nominations from around 3,000 researchers worldwide. Nominations must be received by January 31. No one can nominate themselves. The committee screens the nominations and selects the preliminary candidates. We typically receive 250-350 names, some more than once. In the following months, the committee solicits assessments of the candidates’ work from specially appointed experts. A lot of work then goes into writing the scientific reports and making recommendations on the final candidates to the members of the Academy. The report is discussed at two meetings of the Economic Sciences Section of the Academy. The Economic sciences laureate is not officially chosen until the vote is held by the entire Academy of Sciences.
How do you evaluate the nominated candidates?
– Like in the natural sciences, the prize is awarded for scientific contributions. There are many impressive scholars out there, but we are not evaluating the person or their lifetime achievements, but rather specific scientific contributions. We do not consider political issues or the gender, nationality, or age of the nominee. Economic Sciences is broadly defined, including cross-disciplinary work. This is clearly reflected in the laureate this year, Claudia Goldin, whose research is at the intersection of labor economics and economic history.
If I had to generalize, I would say that laureates are passionate researchers who are not afraid to study big questions, even if they are potentially hard to answer.
What would you say distinguishes a Nobel laureate?
– I am not sure there is a distinguishing feature of a laureate. But perhaps if I had to generalize, I would say they are passionate researchers who are not afraid to study big questions, even if they are potentially hard to answer, and have had significant impacts on society (through their own research and that of others who they have inspired). This is certainly true of this year’s laureate, Claudia Goldin.
What is your perspective on Claudia Goldin’s research and how it has influenced their scientific field or society at large?
– There are many gender gaps that persist in the labor market – both in participation and earnings – around the world today. These gaps exist despite the fact that women are in many countries more educated than men, and despite the fact that many countries have in place policies like equal pay legislation to combat discrimination. Policy makers talk a lot about how to reduce these gender gaps. But, the first step in assessing whether and how these gender gaps should be addressed is understanding why they exist in the first place. Claudia Goldin’s research provided us the first comprehensive view of both how and why female labor market outcomes have changed through 200 years of US history. By looking through the US historical lens, she could observe structural changes in the labor market (e.g., agricultural to industrial), changes in social norms and institutional barriers, expanding access to education, and medical discoveries, like the birth control pill, that gave women the ability to time and control their own fertility. Her work makes clear that the underlying sources of the gender gap change with development, and has vast societal implications for both developed countries like the US, but also other countries still at earlier stages of development.
Through tireless detective work trawling through archives, Claudia Goldin discovered many novel data sources and creative ways to use them, which allowed her to measure the previously unknown long-run evolution of female labor market outcomes.
– It is so impressive to me how she overcame the challenges that existed in studying this question. It is not easy to study something – in this case female labor market outcomes – when we do not have data; for much of this historical period, systematic labor market data, especially for women, did not exist. Through tireless detective work trawling through archives, Claudia Goldin discovered many novel data sources and creative ways to use them, which allowed her to measure the previously unknown long-run evolution of female labor market outcomes. She consequently showed us that despite continuous economic growth, gender gaps do not continuously close. For instance, that female employment surprisingly decreased with economic growth in the 1800s before increasing in the 1900s. And the gender gap in earnings hardly moved at all for much of the 1900s. But, she did more than discover new data and patterns: she also discovered that an economic framework can explain both the historical drivers of changes in labor market gender gaps and what underlies the existing gaps today.
This is your first year on the committee. What aspects of your committee work do you find meaningful?
– While it was a steep learning curve and a lot of work, the experience has been incredibly rewarding. I have had the opportunity to dive deep into a wide range of topics that are outside my own core research activities of labor economics and the economics of crime. This has made me a much more well-rounded economist and I think a better researcher myself. It was also terrific to see the culmination of the year’s work, and both the reaction of the world but also the laureate to the news and scientific motivation.
"Over the past century, the proportion of women in paid work has tripled in many high-income countries. This is one of the biggest societal and economic changes in the labour market in modern times, but sig- nificant gender differences remain. It was first in the 1980s that a researcher adopted a comprehensive approach to explaining the source of these differences. Claudia Goldin’s research has given us new and often surprising insights into women’s historical and contemporary roles in the labour market."
Read the Popular Science Background (pdf) of Claudia Goldin's research.