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Title: The changing structure of occupations and wage inequality : the polarisation of the British labour market, 1970s-2000s
Author: Williams, Mark T.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis investigates the co-evolution of the changing structure of occupations and the growth in wage inequality in Britain since the 1970s and the subsequent stabilisation during the 2000s. Occupations provide the single most important unit of analysis for economic inequality in stratification research, providing the basis for socioeconomic status, prestige scales, job desirability scores, and social class schemas. Although there was a ‘massive rise’ in wage inequality, relatively little is known about the relationship between the occupational structure and the growth in wage inequality. Since sociologists tend to place a lot of emphasis on the role of occupations in structuring economic inequalities, we might expect them to play a key role in accounting for trends in overall wage inequality. More recent strands of sociological theory, however, argue that the link between occupations and economic inequalities might have been weakening over time. This thesis assesses these claims in relation to the over time trends in between- and within-occupation-inequality. It finds that the growth in overall wage inequality was largely due to growing inequality between occupations, not within them. The growth in between-occupation inequality was largely due to higher-paying occupations receiving the largest wage gains. Furthermore, and perhaps surprisingly, only a handful of occupations account for the majority of the rise in wage inequality, indicating caution should be exercised in generating accounts about the role for occupations in accounting for overall inequality. Along the way, this thesis attempts to address the extent to which the structuring of the growth in wage inequality by occupations was due to the changing composition of incumbents within occupations (namely the rise in educational attainment), in spite of data limitations. Finally, this thesis takes to task what the implications of the ‘massive rise’ in wage inequality implies for the broader categories sociologists use to capture economic inequalities based on aggregations of occupations.
Supervisor: Mills, Colin Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sociology ; wage inequality ; occupations ; social class