Presentation Speech by Professor Kerstin Enflo, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Member of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, 10 december 2023.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Esteemed Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is about time.
This year’s prize in economic sciences is essentially about time. Time should have the potential to be a great equaliser. Everybody gets the same daily allowance and gets to decide how to spend it.
But although the length of the day is equally distributed, its span is often insufficient for the pursuit of life’s many goals. Raising children takes time. Engaging in a long educational program takes time. Investing in a career and climbing the promotional ladder takes time.
Claudia Goldin explains that women had to make choices about time under different constraints than men. These choices had economic underpinnings and were appropriate given the circumstances of the time and the ability of women to peer accurately into the future. The result, however, has been unequal outcomes: in how much time women spend working in the labour force, in how much they earn when they work.
It is about time. Because living conditions change over time. Goldin shows how a host of technological advances in the home − refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines − freed up women’s time during the past century. She explains how the emergence of birth control pills in the 1960s improved women’s ability to plan family and career. As a result, the rate of women entering the labour market tripled in many countries, undeniably one of the largest economic and social changes of modern times.
But can we expect that the mere passage of time will do the trick? Claudia Goldin tells us that historically, this has not been the case. She digs deeply into the archives and reveals the various type of work carried out by female professionals who were not listed with occupations in historical censuses: butchers, bakers, seamstresses, shoemakers, pewterers, coopers, tinplate workers, glass engravers and ironmongers, to mention a few. Despite being absent from official records, these women carried out their work. With industrialisation, these professions became rarer among women, and, during 200 years of American history, female labour market participation decreased before it increased. Time served as a divider before it worked as an equaliser.
It is about time. Because change takes time. Goldin’s work teaches us that history progresses slowly as each generation achieves its own form of success, then passes the baton to the next.
On a wintry day in Chicago in 1971, a baton was surely passed. A young woman, dressed in high boots and a fashionably short coat that barely covered her miniskirt, observed a grey-haired woman, a retired professor, walking to the computer centre carrying a large box of punch-cards. The two women were separated by more than age, and by more than their fashion sense, but they occupied the same moment in time. What the young woman learned from the older one was that women could have the same commitment to research as male professors. She saw a vision of the possible and felt a desire to achieve what was lacking. In her book Career and Family, Claudia Goldin recalls this moment as an apparition: a reminder of the past and a vision of the future at the same time.
Today, a wintry day in Stockholm, will forever be another historical moment.
Professor Claudia Goldin: It’s about time that the world learns the long work history of half of its population.
Your research has radically changed what we know about women in the labour market and how we understand what we know. Today, we celebrate your path-breaking academic achievements. They are more than a baton to be passed. They are giant shoulders from which coming generations will be able to see very far.
It is an honour and a privilege to convey to you, on behalf of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, our warmest congratulations.
May I now please ask you to step forward and receive your prize from His Majesty the King.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2023
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