Job Turf or Variety: Task Structure as a Source of Organizational Inequality

Source: Nathan Wilmers, Administrative Science Quarterly, OnlineFirst, Published February 25, 2020
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From the abstract:
What explains pay inequality among coworkers? Theories of organizational influence on inequality emphasize the effects of formal hierarchy. But restructuring, firm flattening, and individualized pay setting have challenged the relevance of these structuralist theories. I propose a new organizational theory of differences in pay, focused on task structure and the horizontal division of labor across jobs. When organizations specialize jobs, they reduce the variety of tasks performed by some workers. In doing so they leave exclusive job turf to other coworkers, who capture the learning and discretion associated with performing a distinct task. The division of labor thus erodes pay premiums for some workers while advantaging others through job turf. I test this theory with linked employer–employee panel data from U.S. labor unions, which include a type of data that is rarely collected: annual reporting on work tasks. Results show that reducing task variety lowers workers’ earnings, while increasing job turf raises earnings. When organizations reduce task variety for some workers, they increase job turf for others. Without assuming fixed job hierarchies and pay rates, interdependencies in organizational task allocation yield unequal pay premiums among coworkers.