Claudia Goldin is this year’s recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and this is the perfect time for her work to step into the spotlight.
Goldin is an economics professor at Harvard University who focuses on the role of women in the labor force. She has painstakingly collected and researched data spanning 200 years, examining social, cultural and political factors that contribute to economic phenomena like the gender wage gap and patterns of female labor force participation.
The job market and the economy is in a much different place now than before the pandemic. Companies were forced to change and adapt, and as we move back into life that looks a little more “normal,” I think this is the perfect time for us to rethink some of the fundamental ways that the economy has been set up in the past.
Data from the annual Women in the Workplace report, from consultant group McKinsey & Company and nonprofit LeanIn.Org, demonstrates that while women make up 48% of entry-level corporate jobs, that number quickly dwindles to only 28% in the C-Suite.
And that diminishing number is not from a lack of ambition — the report writes that “Roughly 80 percent of women want to be promoted to the next level.”
So, there’s something warped in the way that our economy and society treats women versus men, and Goldin’s research has some of the answers as to why that is.
One trend that Goldin identified is that many of the disparities between men and women occur due to children. Goldin writes for The Wall Street Journal that when a couple chooses to have children, traditionally one of the parents has to be — as Goldin puts it — the “on-call” parent.
The “on-call” parent must have the free time to be the primary caretaker of their children, often meaning that they must sacrifice gains at work to be at home.
In heterosexual relationships, that task is usually given to the mother, leading to the prioritization of the father’s career. If a woman still has a job in this “on-call” position, it usually has to be pretty flexible either in hours or as a remote job, which comes at costs like turning down promotions.
Jobs where you are constantly available — “greedy” jobs, Goldin terms them — pay more because you can work at a moment’s notice. Taking care of a child means that is not an option.
Women also tend to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the domestic work in a family, not just the caretaking.
Pew Research Center found that in opposite-sex households where both men and women contribute about the same amount to the family budget, women still completed a weekly average of 4.6 hours of housework compared to men’s 1.9 hour contribution.
It’s no wonder that flexibility and remote work can be so important to women when they often have to carry out unsaid, unpaid labor — be it childcare or domestic housework — in addition to their “real” jobs.
The Women in the Workplace report writes, “38 percent of mothers with young children say that without workplace flexibility, they would have had to leave their company or reduce their work hours.”
But, the pandemic proved that many high-paying and high-ranking jobs can function just as well in a remote or hybrid setting as in-person. Zoom meetings became commonplace, and a lot of people stayed at home or only came in a few days a week.
Instead of reverting back to a dysfunctional, pre-pandemic economic model where women are shunted into poor-paying flexible jobs, perhaps we can take away the lesson that flexibility vs. career doesn’t need to be a choice.
Plus, restructuring our job market to keep traditionally in-person jobs flexible or hybrid can benefit everyone, not just women.
In the Women in the Workplace report, both men and women reported that they felt more productive, had a better work-life balance and experienced less burnout when they worked remotely compared to in-person jobs.
Now that we’ve seen the power and promise of flexible work during the pandemic, the next step is ensuring it can reach its maximum potential in uplifting women and bringing equity to the economy.
It’s not enough to offer the majority of flexible work in entry-level positions: Companies need to track women’s progress and ensure they are creating opportunities for growth and development that line up with the societal realities women face. Once we start prioritizing equality in one sector of life, the gaps between men and women in other areas of life can start to dwindle.
This year’s Nobel Prize brought Goldin’s work into pop culture. She was a famous economist already, but the award put her into headlines and news feeds, which represents a huge opportunity for her work to become more accessible to everybody.
“Work” looks different now post-pandemic, and thanks to her Nobel Prize pushing Goldin into the spotlight, we have a chance to educate ourselves and shift the cultural narrative toward equality.