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Property, Authority, and Income Distribution in America, 1983-2010

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionWodtke, Geoffrey. 2013. "Property, Authority, and Income Distribution in America, 1983-2010." PSC Research Report No. 13-804. October 2013.

Income inequality in America has increased substantially since the early 1980s. Although several theoretical traditions in sociology suggest an important impact for property and authority relations on changes in income distribution, recent empirical studies have largely ignored the social relations of production, focusing instead on how income distribution is shaped by occupations in the technical division of labor; education, skills, and other types of human capital; and demographic characteristics. This study investigates trends in income distribution between different positions in the property and authority structure of the workplace from 1983 to 2010. Drawing on historical research about shifting power dynamics among proprietors, managers, and workers, this study delineates and tests a theory of class structure and income distribution that predicts highly divergent income trends over the past three decades between those with and without property and authority in production. Consistent with this theoretical approach, semi-parametric estimates from the GSS and CPS indicate that income differences between classes, defined in terms of property and authority relations in production, have grown substantially wider since the early 1980s. Conservative estimates indicate that between-class income differences increased by about 50 percent from 1983 through the mid-2000s, net of the potentially confounding influence of measured skills, social background, and demographic characteristics.

Country of focus: United States.

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