Consolidated Advantage: New Organizational Dynamics of Wage Inequality

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030921-WP-Consolidated Advantage-Wilmers and Aeppli

Nathan Wilmers, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Clem Aeppli, Harvard University


The two main sources of inequality in the US labor market—occupation and workplace—have increasingly consolidated. Workers benefiting from employment at a high-paying workplace are increasingly those who already benefit from membership in a high-paying occupation. Drawing on occupation-by-workplace data, we show that two-thirds of the rise in wage inequality since 1999 can be accounted for not by occupation or workplace inequality alone, but by their increased consolidation. This consolidation is not attributable to firm turnover or to how occupations have shifted across a fixed set of high paying firms (as in outsourcing). Instead, consolidation has resulted from new bases of workplace pay premiums. Workplace premiums associated with teams of professionals have increased, while premiums for previously high-paid blue-collar workers have been cut. Yet the largest source of consolidation is bifurcation in the social sector, whereby some previously low-paying but high-professional share workplaces, like hospitals and schools, have deskilled their jobs, while others have raised pay. Broadly, the results demonstrate an understudied way that organizations affect wage inequality: not by directly increasing variability in workplace or occupation premiums, but by consolidating these two sources of inequality.


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