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The Hidden Gender Wealth Gap

As important as equal pay and other labor-market advances for women have been, progress toward economic parity with men remains tenuous and incomplete. As inequality becomes less about wages and more about wealth, women once again find themselves facing profound structural disadvantages.

PARIS – This year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Claudia Goldin, is an optimist at heart. Some might say that she needs to be. After all, her research on long-term trends in economic inequality between men and women has demonstrated, time and again, that progress for women is anything but linear. Goldin’s now-famous “U-shaped curve” shows that women in the United States were pushed out of many occupations during the nineteenth century, such that later generations then had to spend the twentieth century regaining lost ground.

If it happened before, could it not happen again? As a quote often attributed to French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir advises, “Never forget that it only takes a single political, economic, or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question.”

Nonetheless, Goldin believes that wealthy countries are on the cusp of what she calls the “last chapter” of the “grand gender convergence.” This could be achieved, she contends, through a combination of changes at work (eliminating “greedy” jobs that demand availability during evenings and weekends) and at home (through equal sharing of housework and caregiving). Now that women are free to make the same career choices as men, these advances could reduce the earnings gap to zero.