The relational basis of inequality: Generic and contingent wage distribution processes

Dustin Avent-Holt, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


In this article, a relational model of inequality is applied to understand organizational wage inequality patterns. The authors begin by laying out a relational model arguing that wage distributions emerge from actors within workplaces negotiating and contesting who should receive greater or lesser rewards for their work. These claims typically involve constructing categorical distinctions between people and jobs, attaching meaning to those categories, and actors in those categories attempting to exploit value and hoard opportunities through a process of claims making. Using the Australian National Organizations Study, the influence of relational differences between jobs on wage inequalities is modeled. It was found that jobs comprising actors with higher status and greater power in the labor process are often able to use their status and power relative to others to extract greater rewards, generating wage inequality between jobs. The effects of these relational status and labor process distinctions vary across institutional and market contexts, suggesting that the relational model is enhanced by contextualizing this generic process. The article concludes by identifying how future research might further specify a relational model of the generation of inequality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-193
Number of pages32
JournalWork and Occupations
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Income inequality
  • Organizations
  • Relational models
  • Work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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