Market forces and workers’ power resources: A sociological account of real wage growth in advanced capitalism

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Sociologists rarely study the determinants of real wage growth, even though it affects core sociological concerns such as social stratification and income inequality. Using data from 14 countries over a 38-year period, this study assesses the multifaceted determinants of real wage growth in the manufacturing sectors of advanced capitalist societies. On this topic, neoclassical economics suggests that wages should track labor productivity, but sociological theories of class conflict suggest that both firms and workers use “power resources” to shape distributional outcomes in their favor. Drawing on these ideas and others, the author argues that real wage growth is loosely related to productivity growth, but strongly related to the power resources of workers. This argument is tested with panel regression techniques. The results provide strong support for a power resource theory of wage determination. The study ends by considering possible reasons for the weak effect of labor productivity on real wages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-119
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Sociology
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

An early version of this paper was presented at the annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) at the University of California, Berkeley, 24-26 June 2016. The author thanks Matthew Mahutga, Tali Kristal, and several anonymous referees for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


  • economic sociology
  • power resources
  • trade unions
  • wage bargaining
  • monopsony
  • productivity growth
  • wage-productivity gap


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