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Women in the workforce are often seen as a modern phenomenon. But in reality, women have been active participants in the global labour economy for centuries, albeit vastly undervalued and underpaid. Levels of participation have fluctuated in response to technological and social changes, but true equality with men remains impossible.

For her groundbreaking work in documenting and researching the history of women's work, Harvard professor Claudia Goldin has been awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics in honour of the 2023 Alfred Nobel Prize. This legendary prize, also known colloquially as the Nobel Prize in Economics, will continue to be awarded this year to Ms Goldin, who has “expanded our understanding of women's labour market outcomes.”  from the University of Chicago in 1972. She began teaching shortly thereafter and eventually joined the faculty at Harvard University in 1990. Throughout her long career, she has used creative materials to illuminate the history of women's labour. Women are often missing from the historical record, and their accomplishments (like many women today) often go unmentioned. Goldin's research showed that women's participation in the labour market follows a "U-shaped" curve.

"The participation of married women declined with the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society in the early 19th century, but began to increase with the growth of the service industry in the early 20th century," the Nobel Prize states. "Goldin explained that this pattern was the result of structural changes and the evolution of social norms regarding women's responsibilities to the home and family."

Widespread changes have been noted. Employers for women have remained the same. There were also more sudden changes, such as the introduction of oral contraceptives that allowed women to decide their own destiny. For many, this meant a career that her mother never dreamed of for her. Goldin's research also examines the persistent employment gap between men and women and concludes that despite equal education, it is the unequal influence of child-rearing that divides men and women.

Workplace measures such as family leave can help close this gap. According to the Nobel Committee, Goldin's research also sheds light on the reasons for the pay disparity, saying, "Part of the explanation is that educational decisions that affect lifelong career prospects are made at a relatively young age. That's what I mean.'' Development will proceed slowly, as experienced by previous generations, such as mothers returning to work for the first time after their children are grown. ” 

Although some of Goldin's work is historical in nature, it provides a clear context for addressing deep-seated issues of women's devaluation and exclusion from the workplace.

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