Despite decades of research on social mobility and wage disparities, it remains a puzzle why people from lower-class families earn less than people from upper-class families even when similar in education and occupational prestige. Taking a sociocultural perspective on social class, we argue that a key contributor to the class pay gap is that people from upper-class origins tend to work in occupations with greater autonomy, whereas their lower-class counterparts tend to work in occupations that are more prosocial. We further propose that autonomous occupations pay better than prosocial occupations. Across two distinct nationally representative samples in the United States, we find that people with upper-class (vs. lower-class) parents are more likely to work in autonomous occupations, but less likely to work in prosocial occupations, even when controlling for education, occupational prestige, and other potential confounds. This pattern of occupational sorting explains a substantial portion of the class pay gap. Our study extends the literatures on social class, occupational segregation, and social mobility, and joins an important scholarly conversation that has, until recently, taken place outside the field of management.
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Fang, Ray Tsai and Tilcsik, András. (2022). "Prosocial Occupations, Work Autonomy, and the Origins of the Social Class Pay Gap". Academy of Management Journal, 65(3), 903-929. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2020.1564