Union Decline Accounts for Much of the Rise in Wage Inequality
Released: 7/21/2011 11:10 AM EDT
Embargo expired: 7/26/2011 12:00 AM EDT
Source: American Sociological Association (ASA)

Newswise — WASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2011 — Union membership in America has declined significantly since the early 1970s, and that plunge explains approximately a fifth of the increase in hourly wage inequality among women and about a third among men, according to a new study in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.

“Our study underscores the role of unions as an equalizing force in the labor market,” said study author Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Harvard University. “Most researchers studying wage inequality have focused on the effects of educational stratification—pay differences based on level of education—and have generally under-emphasized the impact of unions.”

>From 1973 to 2007, wage inequality in the private sector increased by more than 40 percent among men, and by about 50 percent among women. In their study, Western and co-author Jake Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, examine the effects of union decline on both between-group inequality and within-group inequality. Between-group compares people from different demographics and industries, while within-group looks at people from the same demographics and industries.

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