Nathan Wilmers, Sloan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thu February 23rd 2023, 12:30 - 1:45pm
McClatchy Hall, Building 120, Studio S40
Title: The End of Inequality? Effects of Work Reorganization Amid Resurgent Worker Power

Abstract: Over the last 10 years, pay has increased more for low-wage workers than for managers and professionals. This unexpected decline in US inequality is mainly due to tight labor markets, not to revitalized unions or re-embedded employment relations. Will these fragile gains be institutionalized as higher-paying jobs? In this talk, I propose a task-based theory of three scenarios in which employers institutionalize higher-paying jobs for low-wage workers: a wage-effort bargain, relational contracting over discretion, and skill upgrading. I then discuss two projects that test whether these employer strategies actually benefit workers. In one, we conduct the first ever match between US linked employer-employee data and job descriptions from online job postings. This lets us ask whether, when a job shifts toward more autonomy or task complexity, earnings increase for new hires into that job.  The second project addresses the wage-effort bargain: Using a measure of work intensification drawn from online job reviews, we study whether work intensification accounts for rising pay for low-wage workers. This research shows how the sociology of work can help to explain macro-inequality trends and to identify opportunities for durably higher-paying jobs.