Harvard study links income inequality to plummeting unionization

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ocufa.on.ca – publications/ontario_university_report – Volume 5, Issue 27 – DataCheck
August 10, 2011.

From 1973 to 2007, wage inequality in the U.S. private sector increased by more than 40 per cent among men, and by about 50 per cent among women.

At the same time, union membership plunged, and that decline explains about one fifthof the increase in wage inequality among women — and about a third among men — according to a new study in August’s American Sociological Review (paid access required).

Part of the reason for this gender discrepancy is that men have experienced a much larger decline in private-sector union membership—from 34 percent in 1973 to eight percent in 2007—than women (who went from 16 percent to six percent during the same period).

“Our study underscores the role of unions as an equalizing force in the labor market,” says one of the study’s authors, Harvard professor Bruce Western. “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.”

“In the early 1970s, unions were important for delivering middle-class incomes to working-class families, and they enlivened politics by speaking out against inequality,” said Western. “These days, there just aren’t big institutional actors who are making the case for greater economic equality in America.”

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