Claudia Goldin says "greedy" jobs have widened the gender pay gap : The Indicator from Planet Money Caregiving responsibilities for women have drastically increased since the start of the pandemic. And with new demands at home and at work, many women have struggled to find a balance between work and family. On today's show, economist Claudia Goldin joins us to talk about that and other issues in her new book, "Career and Family: Women's Century Long Journey Towards Equity."

Women, career and family: A conversation with Claudia Goldin

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VANEK SMITH: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. Claudia Goldin is one of the most famous economists in the world. She's a professor at Harvard, and she has done a lot of groundbreaking work on all kinds of issues, especially related to women and work.


VANEK SMITH: In her new book, "Career And Family: Women's Century-Long Journey Towards Equality" (ph), Claudia looks at the evolution of the roles of work and family care in the lives of American women, including the impact that COVID has had on women, work and child care. After the break, a conversation with Claudia Goldin.

We're talking with Claudia Goldin about her book "Career And Family." Claudia, thank you so much for joining me.


VANEK SMITH: In the beginning of the book, you address some of the data about women in the workplace - specifically the pay gap and the promotion gap. A lot of those things are often attributed to gender discrimination. And you take a different look at that data. What do you see when it comes to things like the pay gap and the career gap?

GOLDIN: So I would never say that there is no discrimination and no sexual harassment at all. But the majority of the gap, particularly for women who have caregiving responsibilities, is due to the fact that women often step back and the men in their lives step forward. And they do this in part to optimize the family income, the household income.

VANEK SMITH: You give an example of a couple. I think they both start out in IT. And they start out at the same job, basically at the same pay. And then they go in very different directions. So describe this couple's trajectory.

GOLDIN: So they had kids. And so they had taken jobs that were, in some sense, a little greedy. The greediness of the jobs was that they were expected to be on call at sort of all hours - not 24/7, but maybe on Sunday nights, maybe on vacations, maybe after or around dinnertime.

And after the kids arrived, they realized that these sort of greedier jobs, which paid more - that both of them couldn't do that. And so they knew that one of them had to be what one might call the on call at home but full-time working parent, and the other one would be the on call at the office and full-time working parent. And so they decided, as is the case for many couples in the world, that the woman would be the on call at home working parent.

VANEK SMITH: You make the point that couples are wanting to pursue career and family and ideally an equal split, and we've never really had that in any country throughout history before. I mean, I guess I knew that, but it sort of surprised me to hear it put that way.

GOLDIN: Right. I think that one of the things that the book does is it shows the evolution of college graduate women who, at the beginning of the 20th century, know that they can have either a career or a family. Very few of them could put together both. And we evolve into the mid part of the 20th century. These are the mothers of the baby boom. And they were enabled to have a family first and then have very fulfilling jobs - occasionally, an actual career. And that was actually progress.

And then we move to the generation that got the pill and said, I have the ability to delay marriage, delay having kids without very much of a cost in terms of my social and sexual life. And yet, they did much better on the career end. And then we move to the most recent group, and this group has had more career and family than any group in the past. On the other hand, though, women are not doing as well as men are, and that's where we get to this story about greedy work.

VANEK SMITH: In certain ways, all the generations are reacting a little bit to the generation before and the trade-offs they saw that generation making. But then we get to COVID. How did that sort of change the situation of women and family and career?

GOLDIN: During COVID, the care demands for families became enormously large. So we have some estimates that by April of 2020, parents with school-aged children were putting in twice the number of hours that they were previously. And opening up the schools became an absolutely key issue in getting the economy started again. So as schools began to open up, we also realized that we had learned something from this terrible year in - let us call it exile. And we learned that we could do many things without being together. And so in fact, there is a silver lining to our terrible pandemic year, and that is that I think we have reduced the price of what I'll call flexibility and reduced the need for as many greedy jobs.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah, I did want to ask about moving forward because it strikes me that when you were describing the IT couple, they made a very economically logical decision. Because, like you said, they could have both taken the less greedy job that would have allowed them to split the child care more evenly. But for the family unit, they actually maximized their resources in a way. What do you see as the way forward?

GOLDIN: The solution isn't a simple one, but part of it is reducing the value of these greedy jobs, getting jobs in which individuals are very good substitutes for each other and can trade off. And I know there are people who will tell me this is impossible. But in fact, it's done in obstetrics. It's done in anesthesiology. It's done in pediatrics. It's done in veterinary medicine. It's done in various banking decisions. And if it can be done in all of that with all the amazing IT that we have, we could probably do it elsewhere as well.

The other part of this is changing the cost of alternatives to the parental time for taking care of the kids. And you know, as a nation, we have done that for a very, very long time. It's called public school.


VANEK SMITH: That's true, yeah.

GOLDIN: So the fact that we agreed as a nation long ago to have public school means that the question is, when does it start? For example, in Sweden, child care starts at age 1. And then the other part of this is thinking of your children as my children and my children as your children. If we truly embrace that, we wouldn't debate as much about whether we should fund programs because it would be - I'm lowering the price of taking care of your children, but they're my fellow citizens. They're my children as well.


VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Brittany Cronin with help from Isaac Rodrigues. It was fact-checked by Taylor Washington. Viet Le is our senior producer, and Kate Concannon edits the show. THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

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