Occupations and British wage inequality, 1970s-2000s.
European sociological review
Occupations provide a central unit of analysis for economic inequality in stratification research for two main reasons. First, occupations are supposed to structure inequality. Second, occupations are supposed to proxy as a source of inequality. Although there was a ‘massive rise’ in British wage inequality, relatively little is known about the relationship between the occupations and growing British wage inequality, and the sparse empirical research is inconclusive. Since sociologists traditionally have tended to place a great deal of emphasis on occupations, we might expect the changing structure of occupations and changing occupational wages to play a key role in accounting for trends in overall British wage inequality. More recent strands of stratification theory, however, have challenged the idea that occupations structure economic inequalities, and argue that the link between occupations and wages might have been weakening over time, instead predicting that growing wage inequality mostly occurs within occupations. We decompose trends in British wage inequality into between-occupation and within-occupation components and show that, although most wage inequality is within occupations, it is inequality between occupations that accounts for the lion’s share of changes in wage inequality trends. Furthermore, trends in between-occupation inequality cannot be ‘explained away’ by fundamental labour market changes such as rising educational attainment and the decline in collective bargaining. We also demonstrate what the rise in between-occupation inequality implies for the British ‘big class’ structure using the NS-SEC social class schema. We show that growing between-occupation inequality can be more or less described as growing between-class inequality.
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