Nice profile of Prof Goldin in IMF’s Finance & Development: Born in 1946 in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, Goldin recalls an early fascination with investigation and intellectual discovery, immersing herself in the wonders of Manhattan’s museums as she fell in love first with archeology, then bacteriology. She went to Cornell University initially to study microbiology but came to embrace the humanities and social sciences, especially history and economics, which became her undergraduate major. She completed her doctorate in industrial organization and labor economics in 1972 at the University of Chicago. Goldin explains why history is important to economics, citing the book The Race between Education and Technology (2008), which she wrote with fellow Harvard labor economist
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Nice profile of Prof Goldin in IMF’s Finance & Development:
Born in 1946 in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, Goldin recalls an early fascination with investigation and intellectual discovery, immersing herself in the wonders of Manhattan’s museums as she fell in love first with archeology, then bacteriology. She went to Cornell University initially to study microbiology but came to embrace the humanities and social sciences, especially history and economics, which became her undergraduate major. She completed her doctorate in industrial organization and labor economics in 1972 at the University of Chicago.
Goldin explains why history is important to economics, citing the book The Race between Education and Technology (2008), which she wrote with fellow Harvard labor economist Lawrence Katz, who is also her husband.
“Larry Katz and I looked at changes in income inequality post-1980 versus pre-1980 and investigated the theory that inequality has risen more post-1980 because of skill-biased technological change,” Goldin says. “History allowed us to understand that skill-biased technological change is not new but has been around for a very long time and to identify the longer-term forces at work.”
The earnings gap between more-educated and less-educated workers was also wide in 1915, then narrowed until the 1950s, and then expanded again in the 1980s, Goldin and Katz found. By studying the whole century, they saw that changes in the supply of and demand for college-educated workers explain most of the fluctuation in wage premiums for better-educated workers. These ups and downs reflect a race between education and technology as the education system keeps up with evolving technologies’ changing demands for skills.
On women’s role in economics:
As the feminist movement unfolded in the 1970s, Goldin discovered where she could make her mark: in studying women’s participation in the economy. She was living through a period of significant social change and a transformation of perceptions about the role of women.
“I realized that something was missing,” she wrote in “The Economist as Detective,” her 1998 autobiographical essay. “I was slighting the family member who would undergo the most profound change over the long run—the wife and mother. I neglected her because the sources had. Women were in the data when young and single and often when widowed. But their stories were faintly heard after they married.”
Starting in the late 1970s, Goldin conducted a series of studies examining how various dimensions of women’s participation in the US labor force evolved over 200 years. In the book Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women (1990), she noted how the history of gender wage gaps is characterized not by steady progress but by distinct spells when the gaps narrowed, including in the early 19th century with mechanization, in the early 20th century with the rise of clerical work, and in the 1980s with gains in women’s educational attainment.
In her 2006 paper “The Quiet Revolution That Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, and Family,” Goldin identified four phases going back to the late 19th century that shaped women’s role in the US economy. She found the first three phases to be “evolutionary,” identifying them as “independent female worker,” up to the 1920s; “easing the constraints on married women in the labor force,” 1930s–1950s; and “roots of the revolution,” 1950s–1970s. Then came the “quiet revolution” starting in the late 1970s.
More of her work:
As extensive as Goldin’s work on gender has been, her academic contributions extend even further. In their 2006 edited volumeCorruption and Reform: Lessons from America’s Economic History, Goldin and Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser studied the significant decline in American public corruption between 1870 and 1920. She identifies a vigorous, independent, free press as the fundamental driving factor.
“The Fourth Estate, in informing the public what was really going on, in reporting and doing the very best investigative journalism, was extremely important,” she says. “Our research showed how the more neutral and apolitical free press emerged in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century.”
In their paper “Watersheds in Child Mortality: The Role of Effective Water and Sewerage Infrastructure, 1880 to 1920” (2018), Goldin and the Stanford medical school’s Marcella Alsan suggest a central focus for low-income countries trying to reduce deaths among children. Analyzing data from Boston between 1880 and 1920, they found that a third of the decline in child mortality resulted from efforts to provide clean water and effective sewage systems. Developing economies could achieve better results by building clean water and sewage systems than by pursuing other piecemeal policies, Goldin told F&D.
The 98-year-old NBER, based near the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is where Goldin and Katz met as they pursued research projects.
“It’s a joke of ours that we call it the National Bureau of Economic Romance,” she says. Besides economics, they share interests in bird watching, hiking, and walking their eight-year-old golden retriever, Pika. Goldin maintains a section on her Harvard web page documenting Pika’s achievements as a competitive scent dog, including a photo of him covered with his prize ribbons. It’s perhaps a faint echo of her childhood investigative pursuits in museums around New York in search of clues about the world around her.