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Editorials

A Gold Star for Goldin, but None Yet for Economics

Harvard Economics professor Claudia D. Goldin became the third woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in economics — and the first woman to do so solo.
Harvard Economics professor Claudia D. Goldin became the third woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in economics — and the first woman to do so solo. By Angel Zhang
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

To the long list of Harvard’s Nobel laureates, Economics professor Claudia D. Goldin is a welcome addition.

We extend professor Goldin our warmest congratulations. Her groundbreaking work on gender parity in the labor force and academia, opportunities provided by contraceptive access, and the history of women’s rights exemplifies what economics can do best: bring radical data-driven insight to societal problems. As Harvard students, we are thrilled to be able to learn from one of the brightest economic minds of our age.

Despite our unreserved joy and pride in Goldin’s achievements, we can’t quite shake off the irony underlying our celebration. While Goldin’s work uses economics to highlight issues and interventions for gender equity, economics is a tragically male-dominated field.

Goldin is being recognized — and rightfully so — for “having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes,” but is only the third woman ever to win the prize in economics and the first not to share the award. She was the first woman in economics to receive tenure not only at Harvard, but also at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2018, only five tenured Harvard Economics professors were female, and only 35 percent of Economics concentrators were women — despite Economics remaining the largest, and thus supposedly most accessible, concentration at Harvard.

Recognizing Goldin as a leading female economist is a great first step toward increasing respect for and representation of women in economics. But more needs to be done.

Schools should implement the various recommendations set forth by the Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge — a brainchild of professor Goldin — to better recruit and retain female economics majors.

As the challenge suggests, economics is about more than just financial markets. Economics professors should focus courses on societal issues such as inequality, education, and health, sparking interest in a wider range of students.

Currently, many of Harvard’s Economics basic concentration requirements are purely theoretical; opportunities to engage with pertinent societal issues more often come in the form of more inaccessible, prerequisite-heavy electives.

While we agree that a solid grasp of economic theory is fundamental to more specified and rigorous study, topics like Goldin’s can and should be accessible to students with less Economics background or from other disciplines entirely. Goldin’s work concerning gender disparity in economics could be folded into more introductory Economics courses at Harvard — giving female students early exposure into how Economics can fit into their worldviews.

The challenge also highlights mentorship — from upperclassmen and professors who look like them — as an important mechanism to inspire women in economics. The perception of Economics concentrators as pre-‘finance bros’ likely discourages women from engaging with the discipline; a change in this perception, through the notable faces of the department, could help sway this tide.

Goldin’s Nobel Prize in economics is a stellar achievement not only for her, but also for a generation of female economists beginning their academic journeys. It’s the perfect moment for Harvard to follow Goldin’s lead and champion diversifying Economics for the rest of academia.

Clarification: Oct. 23, 2023

This staff editorial has been updated to make clear that some introductory Economics courses already include Goldin’s work.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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