The Organizational Production of Earnings Inequalities: A Comparative Project Using Leep Data

Nina Bandelj , Andrew Penner , Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Dustin Avent-Holt
Session Organizer:
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey
Friday, 3 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW2.3.03 (Tower Two)
Overview. This session presnts a new comparative workplace inequality project.

The Organizational Production of Earnings Inequalities: A Comparative Project using LEEP data is a twelve member, six country project exploring the dynamics of workplace earnings distributions, linking them to national institutions and categorical (e.g. skill, gender, immigrant) inequality levels and trends. We examine two central questions: (1) What factors drive overall inequality in workplaces? (2) How do workplace inequality levels exacerbate or mitigate the impact of individual distinctions, such as education level, gender or immigrant status? Our comparative big-data design permits us to further address a third question: How do inequality generating mechanisms vary as a function of institutional contexts?We investigate these three questions for virtually all employees and all employers in the private sector for six European countries: Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, from circa 2000 to the present. These countries were chosen because they have the requisite high quality Linked Employer-Employee Panel (LEEP) data and maximize variation in labor relations, national inequality trends, and individual distributional patterns along gender, immigration and educational lines.

Intellectual Merit. This project makes five intellectual contributions.  First, it highlights the central role organizations play in creating inequality, and simultaneously demonstrates the possibility for mitigating inequality through organizational interventions. Second, the organizational approach leads to an empirical strategy that focuses directly on the links between individuals and organizations, and organizations and national contexts, dissolving the micro-macro divide typical of much empirical social science.  By bringing an unprecedented comparative lens to Linked Employer-Employee Panel data this project will produce fundamentally new insights into the role of institutional contexts in workplace inequality generation processes. Third, we develop and apply new sampling and estimation methodologies for analyzing and comparing Linked Employer-Employee Panel data.

Fourth, the project elaborates Relational Inequality Theory (RIT). RIT builds on prior social theory that focuses on the intersection of various social statuses in workplace divisions of labor, providing general predictions as to the sources of organizational inequality, but simultaneously stressing that the influence of general mechanisms are context dependent. This project will help test, refine and extend knowledge of workplace inequality generating processes, and since there is very little comparative research on organizational inequality, the potential contributions are substantial. Finally, we bring an international dimension to studying organizational inequality.  The recognition that organizational inequality processes are important sources of national inequality trends has been rapidly diffusing, but the relative paucity of appropriate data and the complexity of analysis has stalled scientific development.  Utilizing six European countries greatly expands the scope of existing theoretical and empirical models of organizational inequality.

Broader Impact. Rising inequality is recognized as a widespread problem. Policy debates about inequality primarily focus on government redistribution at the national level, often ignoring that income distributions have become more unequal because of workplace compensation shifts. This study helps uncover the potential for interventions via educational investments, equal opportunity enforcement, wage floors and ceilings, and other institutional interventions that influence organizational variation in inequalities. Better understanding and documenting why some firms produce less inequality than others will provide a powerful counter-narrative to the idea that inequality is a naturally occurring process. Exploring organizational variation within and between countries will reveal the range of inequality regimes compatible with contemporary product and labor market constraints. Further, by linking gender and ethnic/citizenship inequalities to the structure of workplace inequality dynamics we may reveal new paths for increasing social inclusion of historically marginalized groups.

Another broader impact is the creation of an international network of scholars working at the intersection of workplaces and inequality. It is likely that there will be unanticipated but substantial ongoing intellectual synergies. The project will also train graduate students and young scholars in multiple countries further expanding these long term synergies. 

The session will first introduce the outline of the project, its theoretical premises, and empirical goals. This will be followed by a roundtable discussion of the project collaborators and audience suggestions/reactions. The goal is to have a deeply interactive session.

In addition to the session organizers collaborators/discussants will include:

Dustin Avent-Holt, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Georgia Regents University.

Olivier Godechot, Professor of Sociology at SciencePo, co-Director of MaxPo.

Martin Hällsten, Associate Professor of Sociology, Stockholm University.

Are Skeie Hermansen, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oslo.

Peter Jacobebbinghaus,  staff economist and statistician for the German IAB and Senior Researcher Bielefeld University.

Aleksandra Kanjuo-Mrčela, Professor of Sociology, University of Ljubljana has published on gender inequality trends in Slovenia using LEEP data, as well as on work-life balance, HR practice and comparative gender inequality in transitional countries.

Alena Kříěková is a senior researcher and a head of Gender & Sociology Department at the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.  .

Trond Petersen, Professor of Sociology and Business and Associate Dean, Division of Social Sciences, University of California

Mirna Safi, Research Fellow at SciencePo

This Session Is a Panel Discussion, It Does Not Include Papers
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, University of Massachusetts