Claudia Goldin has spent her life studying women’s participation in the workforce. She was the first woman ever to become a tenured professor of economics at Harvard—and is one of only three women who have won the Nobel Prize in economics. And her 2023 Nobel Prize was the first to be awarded to a woman in her field who didn’t share the honor with a man.

Over the course of her career, Goldin has published foundational research on the ways women balance work and family, the persistence of the gender wage gap, and how birth control has influenced how women make decisions about their lives. She’s the world’s leading expert on how the workforce impacts women’s lives, and how women impact the workforce. And she’s one of TIME’s 2024 Women of The Year.

In our conversation, Goldin recounts the moment she won the Nobel Prize, how she discovered her passion for economics, and why she advises her students not to think too hard about their futures.

Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode in the player above, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.

On where she was when she won the Nobel Prize in cconomics:

I was in the place where most people on the east coast of the U.S. are, which is in bed. Because—remember that they are six hours ahead of us, they meaning Sweden—and they want to make certain that if you are on the east coast of the U.S, you’re up and around for their 11 o’clock press conference.

They call you at about 4:30 in the morning and they say you have to prepare for a press conference.

It’s truly a surprise. However, everybody knows that that particular day, this year it happens to have been Oct. 9, the call will be made to someone.

On the five groups of women who have advanced in the labor force over time:

Right now, about 45 percent of young women in the U. S. will graduate from college. We’re becoming almost a majority, and so it’s important to think about how our aspirations, our goals, our achievements have evolved over time.

So if we go back to a group that graduated college around the turn of the 20th century, just before World War I. It was a group that could achieve either family or career. They could almost never have both. Half of the college graduates from that group never had a child or adopted one, and about a third never married. So some part of them aimed for a job or a career, and knew that this was going to be incompatible with them having something else.

So, we then move to group two, which is a transition generation. The real group of importance is group three, which is the group that graduates college from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s, and they are the mothers of the Baby Boom. So the age at first marriage plummets, even for college graduate women; the median age at marriage is about 22, 23, which means that people are meeting their spouse in college. And so the mothers in the Baby Boom aim for a family and then a job. But they had it sequentially. So whereas for the first group, 50 percent of them didn’t have a child, by the third group, 90 percent of those who married (and 90 percent married) had a child.

So, we move from college women being either mothers or career women to a group of individuals who were almost uniformly both: but not at the same time. You have a family and then you go back to work or you begin work.

And then what’s fascinating is we move very quickly to group four, and so that’s a group that’s graduating college from about 1970 to the early 1980s or so. And I’m in that group. This group looks to the Baby Boom mothers and says: you’re making a mistake. Because having the kids, that’s a piece of cake, you’re having lots of kids, but that career, that’s a real problem. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to cement our careers, and then we’ll have the kids later. And they’re armed with the pill, and with the ability to control their fertility a lot better. The age at first marriage begins to soar…giving them breathing time to pursue advanced degrees. You can go to law school, you can get an MBA, you can begin medical school, you can begin a PhD program. As a group, they married later, they tried to cement their careers and then have their kids, but about 27 percent of that group didn’t have a child. They sort of woke up at some point and said, well, we forgot to have the kids.

And group five, which is the most recent group, graduating college sometime after, you know, 1980. They’re the ones who said: we are going to have both. We’re going to have a career and we’re going to have a family.

On her advice for women who want both a career and family:

There are two things that I never do. I do not predict the future and I do not give people advice. However, one of my students long ago, said something to me that has stayed with me forever. And it was when I said to her, What do you want? And she said, I want a partner who wants what I want. So the best advice that I have is to find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, or at least what you think is the rest of your life, and make certain that that person wants what you want.

I said that I don’t give advice, but the one thing I do tell my students— because most of my students have spent an enormous amount of time, since they were little kids thinking about their future—and I think that that’s a way of hemming yourself in. You are going to be more disappointed than not.

And they often ask me about my own life, and I tell them that I had no sense of what the future was going to bring. But I did know the questions that I wanted to answer. And that is how I have spent my life. And I also knew the various small things that gave me joy. And I knew the mountains I wanted to climb, I knew the dogs I wanted to train, I knew the people I wanted to see. But in terms of what I would do, it always came from the questions I wanted answered.



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