Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality

  title={Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality},
  author={Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld},
  journal={American Sociological Review},
  pages={513 - 537}
From 1973 to 2007, private sector union membership in the United States declined from 34 to 8 percent for men and from 16 to 6 percent for women. During this period, inequality in hourly wages increased by over 40 percent. We report a decomposition, relating rising inequality to the union wage distribution’s shrinking weight. We argue that unions helped institutionalize norms of equity, reducing the dispersion of nonunion wages in highly unionized regions and industries. Accounting for unions… 

Figures and Tables from this paper

Labor Unions, Political Representation, and Economic Inequality
Decades of research across several disciplines have produced substantial evidence that labor unions, on balance, reduce economic disparities. But unions are complicated, multifaceted organizations
Labor Unions and the Labor Wedge: A Macroeconomic Perspective
The measured labor wedge, defined as the difference between marginal product of labor and marginal rate of substitution, is relatively stable from 1940s to 70s, and declines secularly from 1980s
The Effect of Labor Relations Laws on Unionization Rates within the Labor Force: Evidence from the Canadian Provinces
We examine the potential of labor‐relations reforms to address wage inequality by relating an index of the favorableness to unions of Canadian provincial labor‐relations laws to changes
Class vs. Special Interest
Why are US labor unions so weak? Union decline has had important consequences for politics, inequality, and social policy. Common explanations cite employment shifts, public opinion, labor laws, and
Unions and Nonunion Pay in the United States, 1977-2015
We provide the most extensive investigation into the connection between union power and nonunion worker pay to date. Leveraging nearly four decades of Current Population Survey (CPS) data on millions
Labor Unions as Activist Organizations: A Union Power Approach to Estimating Union Wage Effects
Abstract:Amid the long decline of US unions, research on union wage effects has struggled with selection problems and inadequate theory. I draw on the sociology of labor to argue that unions use
Economic Inequality and Public Support for Organized Labor
When exploring the political response of citizens to economic inequality, scholarship primarily focuses on support for left parties and demand for redistribution. This article expands upon this
Resurrecting Labor
Participation in American labor unions have changed radically, albeit incrementally, over the last fifty years. Private‐sector union density has declined five‐fold, whereas public‐sector density has


The Effect of Unions on Wage Inequality in the U.S. Labor Market
This study uses Current Population Survey micro data for 1973–74 and 1993 to evaluate the effect of changing union membership on trends in male and female wage inequality. Unionization rates of men
Unionism and the Dispersion of Wages
This study examines the effect of trade unionism on the dispersion of wages among male wage and salary workers in the private sector in the United States. It finds that the application of union wage
Unions and wage inequality
Summary and ConclusionsThe impact of unions on the structure of wages has recently attracted renewed interest as analysts have struggled to explain the rise in earnings inequality in several
Unions and Nonunion Wage Dispersion
Previous research has found that union standard rate policies lower the dispersion of union wages and that unions indirectly raise nonunion wage levels, as firms weigh the probability of unionizing
Sluggish Institutions in a Dynamic World: Can Unions and Industrial Competition Coexist?
  • B. Hirsch
  • Business, Economics
    SSRN Electronic Journal
  • 2007
During the 1930s and 1940s, collective bargaining emerged as the workplace governance norm in much of the U.S. industrial sector. Following its peak in the 1950s, union density in the U.S. private
Nonunion Wage Rates and the Threat of Unionization
Using CPS data for 1977–2002, the author investigates the extent to which the threat of union organization increases nonunion wages and reduces the union/nonunion wage differential. The results are
The Impact of the Percentage Organized on Union and Nonunion Wages
T HE impact of unions on wages is likely to depend on the extent to which they organize workers in the relevant product market.1 As the organization in a market increases, the opportunity for
The Effect of Unions on the Distribution of Wages: Redistribution or Relabelling?
This paper re-examines the connection between unions and wage inequality, focusing on three questions: (1) How does the union wage effect vary across the wage distribution? (2) What is the effect of
Unions and Managerial Pay
Unions compress the wage distribution among workers covered by union contracts. We" ask whether unions also have an effect on the managers of unionized firms. To this end we" collected and assembled
Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists
A recent revisionist literature characterizes the pronounced rise in U.S. wage inequality since 1980 as an episodic event of the first half of the 1980s driven by nonmarket factors (particularly a