A professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management for more than forty years, consultant for government and private corporations as well as author of various books that address economic and public policy issues, Lester C. Thurow published his article “Why Women Are Paid Less Than Men” in the New York Times on March 8, 1981. In this article, Thurow presents an explanation for the historical disparity between men and women’s wages.
Based upon the statistics put forward by Thurow, women have made “Slightly less than 60 percent as much as white men” (page 236), which translates into women earning only six dollars on every ten dollars men make. Meanwhile, during the same period of time, between 1939 and 1979, “Minorities have made substantial progress in catching up with the whites” (page 237). The statistics shown by Thurow indicate that minority (Blacks and Hispanics) women are making less than white women, and that minority men are paid less than white men.
However, the difference between the wages of minority women and white women is smaller than the difference between the wages of minority men and white men. According to Thurow, this fast improvement will eventually end with an equal pay between minority women and white women.
Thurow advanced the popular theories behind the 40 percent discrepancy between men and women’s income, and then dismantled them. George Gilder’s “Wealth and Poverty” states that “The 60 percent is just one of Mother Nature’s constants like the speed of light or the force of gravity” (page 237), therefore, men’s role in life is to provide the family with its economic and material needs and women’s role is to provide affection and care to the family.
This equation results in a heavier work load that men have to endure that is compensated by the 40 percent gap in earnings to the benefits of men. Thurow argues that the evidence provided to support this assertion does not hold together except for the fact that men have made more money than women for decades. He also argues that “Discrimination against women” (page 237) is neither the absolute explanation nor an appropriate one to the differential in wages phenomenon.
Thurow notes that the discrimination against minorities is declining while the discrimination against women is not lessening at the same rate and asks why, if that is the case. He indicates that discrimination against other races is less difficult than discrimination against women, who live with men and form the same household and that “One has to believe that men are monumentally stupid or irrational to explain all of the earnings gap in terms of discrimination” (page 237) and that “There must be something else going on” (page 237).
The other possible theory is that women are less educated and consequently, less qualified; but, as indicated by Thurow, access to education by men and women has been at the same level since World War II and is no longer a factor that can determine or justify the lower earnings of women. Also, he points out that from an employer’s perspective, women are more reliable in terms of maintaining a position than men, unlike what some observers have claimed. The theory introduced by Thurow is the existence of a crucial period of time in the lifetime of young people who wish to become professionally and economically successful.
This critical span of time is “The decade between 25 and 35 when men either succeed or fail” (page 238). He states that during this particular period of time, all the important professional decisions are made and promotions are attained. It is also during this particular timeframe when women typically decide “To leave the labor force or become part-time workers to have children” (page 238). He further states that when women decide to pursue the family path, they miss out on the opportunity to learn new skills and be promoted. At last, Thurow put forward a couple of possible solutions to uniform the pay scale of male and female.
First, young couples who wish to have a family and conceive, should do so before or after achieving the critical decade; in other words, they “Should alter their family plans and have children either before 25 or after 35” (page 238). The second solution can perhaps be a change in society by changing the existing professional advancement and skill learning system so that there is a larger amount of time during which skills can be learned and careers furthered.
Finally, Thurow gives his own opinion on the subject, he suggests that if the two possible solutions he proposed are not both considered, the earnings gap between men and women will persist for the next four decades “Even if discrimination against women is eliminated” (page 238).