Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

Wages and Unequal Access to Organizational Power: An Empirical Test of Gender Discrimination

Academic journal article Administrative Science Quarterly

Wages and Unequal Access to Organizational Power: An Empirical Test of Gender Discrimination

Article excerpt

One basic assumption in discrimination theories is that ascribed characteristics are of great importance for how employees are treated and for how scarce rewards are distributed in the labor market. Several researchers have pointed out that studies of labor market inequality ought to take into consideration the impact of those actors who have direct influence over organizational procedures and policies, that is, managers and supervisors (Marini, 1989; Baron, 1991). According to several scholars, work organizations can be treated as arenas on which social conflicts between management and labor as well as between different groups of employees take place (Kalleberg, Wallace, and Althauser, 1981; Acker, 1987; Baron, 1991; Tomaskovic-Devey, 1993). One implication of such a perspective on organizations is that the distribution of rewards can be seen as a process in which conflicting interests are manifested. Thus, the reward structure to some extent reflects different groups' relative power within the work organization. This perspective is clearly stated by Pfeffer (1989: 389), who argued that "wages are a resource and, like other resources, are allocated at least in part on the basis of the power of various interests." These interests may be defined along various lines, such as social class or demographic characteristics. According to the literature on labor market discrimination, gender is one of the most influential lines of cleavages in distributive conflicts over scarce resources.

Earlier studies of gender discrimination have demonstrated unequivocally the existence and persistence of gender-based wage differences in the labor market (e.g., Rosenfeld and Kalleberg, 1990; Blau and Kahn, 1992; for Sweden, see le Grand, 1994). Several scholars have tried to explain how these differences are influenced by gender composition at the occupational level (e.g., England, 1992), at the organizational level (e.g., Groshen, 1991a), and at the job level (e.g., Treiman and Hartmann, 1981). It has been found in general that wages are relatively low in labor market structures in which many women work. Pfeffer and Davis-Blake (1987) showed in their study of administrators in colleges and universities that the proportion of female incumbents depressed the wages for both male and female administrators. Huffman and Velasco (1997) presented empirical evidence indicating that relatively high numbers of women among the managers in an organization is associated with wage penalties for managers. Even though both of these studies pertain to incumbents of relatively high organizational positions, the results primarily corroborate the more general finding that a high representation of women in a specific category can serve as a negative signal about the relative value of the work performed by those in this category. The aim of the present study is different. Our aim is to move beyond this work, toward a more detailed understanding of the gender wage discrimination process, by studying how gender differences in access to organizational power structures influence the wages of male and female subordinates. We investigate the idea that women's limited access to organizational power structures is a constituent part of the explanation of gender wage inequality. The empirical question we address is whether and how the gender composition of the managerial and supervisory staff in organizations influences the earnings of female and male employees in subordinate positions. To our knowledge, there are no previous large-scale quantitative studies that address this specific research question. Our empirical analyses are based on individual-level data from the Swedish 1991 Level of Living Survey and organizational-level data from the Swedish 1991 Establishment Survey.(1) Given the relatively egalitarian character of the Swedish labor market, if we find discriminatory wage-setting practices in Sweden, they may be viewed as a conservative estimate of their importance in other developed countries. …

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