As Claudia Goldin accepts the Nobel Prize in Economics this month, we can take a lesson from her research on the hidden contributions from women in the labor force by recognizing more women who contributed to the development of economic thought. There are actually hundreds of such women, despite that only three women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics – Elinor Ostrom, Esther Duflo, and now Claudia Goldin. Despite being hidden from view, their contributions are many and often major. 

In my new working paper, I identified 163 women who contributed to economic thought by using the Nobel Prize lecture in economics from 1969 to 2008, and separately considering Elinor Ostrom’s lecture from her 2009 award. Many of these women are not included in other lists, but by manually reviewing citations in the Noble lectures, I was able to identify many women whose work dates back to 1918 and whose work was recognized as important enough to cite by the laureates.

Women made many kinds of contributions to economics during this time period, so although the citation rate by laureates was often low until Ostrom’s lecture, we can learn much by adding their work to our understanding of the literature. In addition to the 125 women who were cited as authors, 29 women were cited for their work as editors of books and other volumes and 20 women were thanked by laureates in their lecture acknowledgements for work ranging from comments to editing and actually typing out the lecture. These contributions are hardly minor – and may even provide opportunities for identifying more work done by these women with the laureates before they won the Nobel Prize.

In addition to identifying women whom readers may be familiar with, including Rose Friedman, Joan Robinson, and Anna Schwartz, the citations included work by women who made major contributions but do not carry the household familiarity of the laureates who cited them. One such scholar was Irma Adelman, a Roman-American development economist who was cited both as an author and an editor and held positions in both academia and the World Bank. Another was Cynthia Taft Morris, an American development economist who worked with Adelman and who worked on the Marshall Plan with her; Barbara Bergmann, a feminist economist who co-founded the International Association for Feminist Economists; and Margaret Reid, whose work on household production preceded work by laureates Gary Becker and Simon Kuznets. 

Although some scholars have identified women in the Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United Kingdom, the Nobel lectures provide a large international resource of scholars around the world. The citations, for example, include economists who held prominent roles outside of the United States, including Françoise Forges, a French game theorist who was awarded the CNRS Silver Medal; Birgit Grodal, a Danish economist who was the first woman president-elect of the European Economic Association before her death; and Shahra Razavi, an Iranian economist who worked with the International Labor Organisation and the United Nations.

The Nobel lectures also include women from outside the economics mainstream, as Elinor Ostrom herself was as a political science PhD. Over time, women were gradually cited more and more, although this inclusion is not distributed evenly between fields: laureates in microeconomics, economic history, and econometric theory led in citing women more than average. 

My working paper joins the detailed work of many other scholars, including work by Evelyn Forget, Mary Ann Dimand, Robert Dimand, Kirsten Madden, and Edith Kuiper, as well as studies of women scholars during the 18th and 19th centuries. As Goldin rightfully joins the ranks of the laureates in economics, we should recognize and remember the hidden contributions of women in economics whose major contributions went unrecognized in the past but still hold relevance for research today.


[Editor’s Note: The Liberty Matters Forum, Why Do We Need Feminist Economics? may also be of interest.]

Darwyyn Deyo is an Associate Professor of Economics at San Jose State University.