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Establishment heterogeneity, rent sharing and the rise of wage inequality in Germany

Clemens Ohlert (Coordination and Information Office of the Minimum Wage Commission, Berlin, Germany)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 3 May 2016




The purpose of this paper is to examine the role wage dispersion across establishments has played in recent increases in total wage inequality in Germany and compares it to inequality changes at the individual level. It is queried whether the contribution of establishment heterogeneity to the rise of wage inequality stems from changes of institutional settings or from structures such as establishment size and the composition of the workforce.


Applying regression-based decompositions of variance to German linked employer-employee panel data for the years 2000-2010 it is analysed to what extent changes associated to firm structures contribute to the rise of total wage inequality.


Results show that the rise in wage inequality in Germany to a great extent is associated to rising wage variance across establishments, implying that establishment specific wage premiums have grown. By further decomposing across firm components of wage inequality, it is found that changes in across establishment wage inequality related to collective bargaining, worker co-determination and internal labour markets together account for about 3 per cent of the rise in total inequality. Inequality changes related to establishments’ skill and occupational composition account for about 11 per cent and establishment size alone accounts for about 18 per cent of the rise in total inequality.


The main contribution is to quantify the relation of specific establishment characteristics to the rise in total wage inequality over time. Conclusions are drawn about the importance of mechanisms of rent sharing at the firm level in comparison to the determination of wages by individual qualification.



The author is grateful for helpful comments by Holger Lengfeld, Miriam Beblo, Jürgen Beyer and the author’s former colleagues at the University of Hamburg. The author also thanks the staff of the Research Data Centre (Forschungsdatenzentrum) at the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) for their support in using the data in Project No. 443.


Ohlert, C. (2016), "Establishment heterogeneity, rent sharing and the rise of wage inequality in Germany", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 37 No. 2, pp. 210-228.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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