One of the most vexing political and social science problems is the persistence of the gender wage gap. In a recently published article in the American Journal of Sociology, we argue that looking at an organization’s choices is crucial to understanding the gender pay gap. Studies that focus on pay as a result of individual worker choices (such as assuming women choose lower paying jobs to accommodate family) are missing that organizations also make choices about pay.
Our article offers a new approach to analyzing the gender pay gap, examining how different organizations pay women less than men using multiple mechanisms at the organization level. These organizational-level processes are often hidden, and harder to see than individual choices, but may be more powerful.
Because we were looking at workers in the federal government in the US, initially we assumed that the federal general schedule (GS)—the system of pay grades tied to job requirements, responsibilities, education, and tenure—would effectively reduce most pay inequality between similarly qualified workers.
It is well known that earnings inequality has been rising in the US and many other countries over the last forty years. What is less well known, is that the great rise in contemporary earnings inequalities is propelled to a large extent by between-workplace wage polarization, whereby some organizations accumulate large resource bases while others fight over the crumbs.
processes have been described as being propelled by “macro” forces: the financialization
of production encouraging externalization, physical and social technologies of
surveillance that enable between firm control of production, skill-biased
technological change, and market fundamentalism
in public policy that permit unfettered firm practices.
trends are always products of a set of meso-level organizational decisions. It
was not disembodied “technology” or “markets” that generated the growth in
inequality, but social movements promoting the interests of shareholders over
other stakeholders, neoliberal policy orientations in the state, and union-busting
consultants that drove these shifts.