Harvard Economics Professor Claudia Goldin on Women’s Quest for Career and Family

By BELLA LAWRENCE

Dr. Claudia Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and previously the president of the American Economic Association in 2013 and 2014. Her specialties include labor economics and economic history.  Goldin came to Colorado College on May 2 to discuss her research on the pay gap pertaining to gender inequality and couple inequity. Specifically, Goldin focused on the college woman’s quest for identity through career and family, as well as remaining barriers towards achieving both.

 “The point is that these are not women’s issues.” Goldin began. “These are everyone’s issues.” 

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Goldin went on to set up an explanation for the historical evolution of women’s attitudes toward success. “The good news” for contemporary statistics, Goldin emphasized, “is that college-educated women are having children at record numbers.” This means that there is a current possibility that young women are able to have both career and family. On the flip side, if women wait until after their careers are fully developed, “you’re probably not going to have one of them.”

The two main issues Goldin endeavored to explain were women earning “less than men, which is what we think of as gender inequality,” and that “they give more hours to their families than men, which is what we think of as couple inequity.” She argued that the real reason for the perpetuation of both of the aforementioned phenomena is that “the price of couple equity is very high, and that’s because the cost of controlling one’s hours,” or “temporal flexibility,” is substantial — particularly for upper income workers. 

In other words, “many occupations have severe earnings penalties for shorter and more controllable hours.” This means that jobs that have uncontrollable hours, requiring an in-office and on-call schedule during rush, evening, and weekend times will provide a notably higher rate of income. This becomes a challenge for the working mother who is expected to be at home caring for her child. 

“So what are the solutions?” Goldin asked, breaking into her main argument for alleviating this societal inequity: “lowering the price of the amenity, lowering the price of temporal flexibility.” This, Dr. Goldin explained, is intertwined with the principle of “lowering the price of goods and services.” So, if all men said “taking care of kids is really great and I want to be at my child’s soccer game on Sunday” then firms would realize “‘Gosh, we’re going to be spending a tremendous amount on this amenity, let’s try to figure out ways to lower the cost.’” As such, the earning gap would gradually shrink, and gender income would become more similar. 

Further information regarding Claudia Goldin’s economic research into gender inequality and couple inequity can be found in her article “How to Achieve Gender Equality,” published by The Milken Institute Review and available online at scholar.harvard.edu.

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