goldberg26_Carlin StiehlGetty Images_goldin Carlin Stiehl/Getty Images

What Economics Was Missing

Since ideas matter in the long run, the awarding of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics to Claudia Goldin represents a small but meaningful victory both for women and economics. By expanding the scope of the discipline, Goldin has made it more relevant to policymakers in developed and developing countries alike.

NEW HAVEN – Last month, the economics community rejoiced when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences to Claudia Goldin for “having advanced our understanding of women’s labor market outcomes.” One can hardly think of a more deserving recipient than the scholar who pioneered the study of women in the labor force, pursued it with passion, and mentored dozens of today’s top thinkers along the way.

But the significance of this year’s prize goes beyond Goldin, because it represents a long-overdue acknowledgment that the economic experience of roughly 50% of the world’s population is worthy of scientific inquiry. What may be obvious today was not always so. Until nearly a decade ago, economics professors would routinely discourage their graduate students from studying gender-related issues. Unsurprisingly, the students most interested in such topics were the few women attending graduate programs in economics at the time. “This is a very interesting question,” academic advisers would say. “But you’d better have tenure before you pursue it.”

It is testament to Goldin’s drive and intellect that she pursued her research agenda successfully despite such an unsupportive environment. Her efforts paved the way for the flourishing of gender-related research today. But the implications of the recognition she has received also goes well beyond gender, which is just one of many dimensions of personal “identity.”