Inequality and the Workplace

Inequality, Geography, and Perceptions Inequality and Social Comparisons | Inequality, Politics, and Group Dynamics | Inequality and the Top-End | Inequality and the Workplace | Inequality and Health | Earlier Topics of Focus

Defining Themes

  • How do the degree and visibility of inequality within the workplace affect employees’ job satisfaction and performance, especially with respect to risk-taking and performance on teams? 
  • What might research on how pay inequality shapes attitudes and behaviors in the workplace reveal about economic inequality’s effects in other social contexts?

Specific Research Questions 

  • Preliminary research suggests that individuals are often willing to tolerate large vertical pay inequalities (i.e., between workers and their supervisors) but less willing to tolerate large horizontal inequalities (i.e., between coworker peers). 
    • How might heterogeneity of employees, workplace biases, or levels of trust within the workplace affect these results?
    • How do feelings of autonomy and power within the workplace affect an individual’s willingness to tolerate economic inequality?
    • How might these effects vary by industry, office size or structure, workplace hierarchy, or other aspects of a firm’s organization? 
  • How, if at all, do inequalities of compensation within the workplace interact with workers’ pre-existing identities and socioeconomic backgrounds?
  • Do certain types of individuals tend to self-select into high inequality workplaces? How does this affect their willingness to tolerate pay gaps? 
    • Is there a relationship between the level of inequality within a particular firm and the kinds of individuals who end up in positions of leadership within them? If so, is it causal? Does the presence of those leaders increase stratification, or vice versa?
  • How do individuals conceive of their reference groups for salary comparisons? Does workplace fissuring, such as through subcontracting, affect perceptions of who one’s peers are?
  • How would introducing pay transparency into a firm affect workers’ collective bargaining power, individual pay negotiations, and the firm’s overall pay distribution? What effects would it have on competitor firms?
  • Does instituting pay transparency in a workplace change individuals’ willingness or comfort in talking about their finances outside of that workplace? 
  • What kinds of research strategies can scholars further employ to gather data on inequality and employee behavior within real-world firms? Are there untapped natural experiments that scholars can capitalize on?