Your pay depends on your productivity and occupation. If you earn roughly the same as others in your job, with the precise level determined by your performance, then you’re paid market value. And who can question something as objective and impersonal as the market? That, at least, is how many of us tend to think. But according to Jake Rosenfeld, we need to think again.
Job performance and occupational characteristics do play a role in determining pay, but judgments of productivity and value are also highly subjective. What makes a lawyer more valuable than a teacher? How do you measure the output of a police officer, a professor, or a reporter? Why, in the past few decades, did CEOs suddenly become hundreds of times more valuable than their employees? The answers lie not in objective criteria but in battles over interests and ideals. In this contest four dynamics are paramount: power, inertia, mimicry, and demands for equity. Power struggles legitimize pay for particular jobs, and organizational inertia makes that pay seem natural. Mimicry encourages employers to do what peers are doing. And workers are on the lookout for practices that seem unfair. Rosenfeld shows us how these dynamics play out in real-world settings, drawing on cutting-edge economics, original survey data, and a journalistic eye for compelling stories and revealing details.
At a time when unions and bargaining power are declining and inequality is rising, “You’re Paid What You’re Worth” is a crucial resource for understanding that most basic of social questions: Who gets what and why?
Jake Rosenfeld is a professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. His research and teaching focus on the political and economic determinants of inequality in the United States and other advanced democracies. He is primarily interested in the determinants of wages and salaries, and how these vary across time and place.