Policy Influence, Internationally

Blau receives top labor economics award
Monday, October 4, 2010

Francine D. Blau, credited with changing the way scholars and policymakers think about gender's role in pay and other economic issues, is the 2010 winner of the prestigious IZA Prize in Labor Economics.

The announcement was made today in Bonn, Germany, by the Institute for the Study of Labor, an international think tank. The honor carries a prize of 50,000 euros, which converts to about $67,000.

Blau, the Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Labor Economics at Cornell, "laid the foundation for more equality and equity in the labor market," according to the institute, which established the annual award in 2002.

The first woman to receive the recognition, Blau will accept the honor Jan. 8 at the Allied Social Science Associations in Denver, Colo.  

The prize is "an enormous honor," she said.

It is especially gratifying to be recognized for work on gender issues, considered risky professional territory -- particularly for women -- in the 1970s, Blau said.

Women received only seven percent of doctorates in economics when Blau earned hers from Harvard University; studying gender could have compromised her career in a field with many untested corners for women academics, she said.

Blau was not dissuaded from her interest; all around her, careers were segregated by gender. The medical and legal fields were dominated by men. Elementary schools and libraries were staffed primarily by women.

"Occupational segregation was all around me. It suggested to me the importance of the issue," she said in an interview this week.

Gender and labor economics proved fertile research ground; Blau has published key pieces of the field's foundational literature.

"Francine Blau's work is highly relevant for decision makers in politics and business because it shows that we need to significantly improve the labor market integration of women in order to meet the challenges of an aging labor force and growing skills shortages," said Klaus F. Zimmermann, director of the institute. IZA, its acronym, is drawn from the German translation of the institute's name.

The award, he said, recognizes Blau's seminal contributions to the analysis of labor market inequality.

Through pioneering use of detailed micro-level data, Blau assessed potential causes for gender pay differentials, such as qualification differences, Zimmerman said.  

Blau's research, spanning four decades, has revealed patterns of change and identified areas where answers are still lacking, he said. For instance, her work shows that the overall gender pay gap has decreased, but that the remaining gap is no longer mainly explained by differences in qualifications and skills.

Instead, labor market discrimination and the fact that women are still primarily responsible for child care and housework duties lowers labor market attachment and limits employment opportunities, Blau found.

Improved integration of family and work is key to achieving labor market equity and efficiency, according to findings by Blau, whose work has also influenced labor economists' thinking on migration and racial discrimination.

Blau, whose talent for economics was first identified by professors while she was an ILR undergraduate, served on the faculty at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, before coming to Cornell in 1994.

A former vice president of the American Economic Association, Blau served as chair of its Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. She is a former president of the Society of Labor Economists and of the Labor and Employment Relations Association.

Blau, a National Bureau of Economic Research associate, has published important research with ILR Professor Larry Kahn. Kahn and Blau are married.

A collection of Blau's key research findings will be part of the IZA Prize Book Series published by Oxford University Press.

More information about Blau is available at http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/directory/fdb4/.