Networks, Work and Inequality: Volume 24


Table of contents

(20 chapters)

The unprecedented levels of economic inequality in the United States and the rapid expansion of inequality in many other societies across the globe underscore the need for innovative research on the processes and mechanisms that contribute to these inequities. This volume is devoted to theoretical and empirical scholarship on the interplay between social networks and work and the consequences for economic inequality. First, the volume scans the field of research on social networks and work during the last decade and organizes this research into four more-or-less autonomous lines of scholarship that attempt to describe and explain economic inequality for distinct outcomes and contexts. These categories – hiring, labor process, work outcomes, and institutional dynamics – serve as the section headings for the volume. The second goal is to bring together exciting new research in these areas in order to highlight the insights that have emerged from these investigations as well as the potential for future advancements in knowledge and discovery in the field. The hope is that scholars might be able to turn to the contents of this volume for further understanding of what is known about the role that networks play in generating, sustaining, and ameliorating inequality in employment and for inspiring a new generation of scholarship on this important topic.

Purpose – The introductory chapter to this special issue highlights contemporary scholarship on networks, work, and inequality.Methodology – We review the last decade of research on this topic, identifying four key areas investigation: (1) networks and hiring, (2) networks and the labor process, (3) networks and outcomes at work, and (4) networks and institutional dynamics.Findings – Social networks play an important role in understanding the mechanisms by which and the conditions under which economic inequality is reproduced across gender, race, and social class distinctions. Throughout the review, we point to numerous opportunities for future research to enhance our understanding of these social processes.

Purpose – I suggest that we conceptualize labor markets as observable social networks, in which workplaces are the nodes and people moving between workplaces are the edges. The movement of people delivers the actionable information as to what the supply, demand, and going wage for labor might be. Labor market networks are hypothesized to be quite thin thus leading to substantial wage setting autonomy within workplaces, consistent with contemporary observations in both economics and sociology as to the weakness of labor market signals.Method – This paper reviews theoretical and empirical work in economics, sociology, and network science and develops a network image of labor market structure and function. Hypotheses derived from economic, sociological, and network theories are proposed to explain workplace-level wage setting.Findings – Information flow, trust in information, information variance, collusion, and status beliefs are all proposed as important network properties of labor markets. The paper outlines an observational strategy to make labor markets scientifically observable.Originality – Economists and sociologists often refer to labor markets as mechanisms setting the price of labor but rarely observe them. This paper outlines a strategy for making the invisible hand of the market scientifically observable.

Purpose – Research has shown that employers often disfavor racial minorities − particularly African Americans − even when whites and minorities present comparable resumes when applying for jobs. Extant studies have been hard pressed to distinguish between taste-based discrimination where employers' racial animus is the key motivation for their poor treatment of minorities and variants of statistical discrimination where there is no assumption at all of racial animus on the part of the employer. This chapter proposes a test of these theories by observing whether employers use employee referrals as a “cheap” source of information to help assess applicant quality.Methodology/approach – Unique quantitative data encompassing the entire pool of 987 candidates interviewed by one company in the western United States during a 13-month period are used to test our arguments.Findings – We find that employers in this setting are making use of the cheap information available to them: Consistent with statistical discrimination theory, minority referrals are more likely to receive a job offer than non-referred minority applicants, and are not disfavored relative to referred whites.Originality/value of the chapter – Both statistical and taste-based theories of discrimination propose similar observable outcomes (lower rates of disfavored minority hiring). While different mental processes are being invoked by taste-based and statistical discrimination theories, the theories are extremely difficult to distinguish in terms of observable behaviors. Especially for the purpose of designing legal remedies and labor market policies to ameliorate the disparate treatment of minority groups, differentiating between these theories is a high priority.

Purpose – This study develops a theoretical argument that social networks are embedded in the macro-level institutional environment. From the perspective of institutional embeddedness, I investigate the changing patterns and implications of social networks in job search and job earnings after China's overhaul of its employment system in the mid-1990s.Methodology/approach – The empirical evidence is drawn from 2003 Chinese General Social Survey data. I conduct statistical analyses to examine the roles of networks in job search and earning disparity by comparing two groups who obtained the job before and after the emerging labor market in urban China, respectively.Findings –Social networks have become much more popular in job search in the emerging labor market. Use of social networks in job search has also become more differentiated across job positions and employment organizations. While managerial status of the key helper and direct ties yield greater returns to employee earnings, strong indirect ties make less contribution to job earnings in the emerging labor market than that under the state-dominated employment system.Research implications – The findings suggest that we should analyze the concrete institutional environment to appreciate the roles of social networks in job search and social inequality.Originality/value – This study highlights that institutions are the key factor to shape the patterns and significance of social networks. As institutions evolve, network patterns and their significance can change accordingly.

Purpose – This study tests three theories of determinants of workers' subjective response to work situations – structural factors (measured by individual, organization, and job characteristics), general disposition, or informal work arrangements as constructed by Laubach's (2005) “consent deal.”Design/methodology/approach – Data were obtained from the Indiana Quality of Employment Survey, a survey of workers covering general working conditions. We constructed 10 models regressing worker perceptions and attitudes (e.g., satisfaction, relations with supervisors, meaningfulness) on structural determinants. We then used structural equation modeling to identify an underlying factor representing a general worker response from elements of the attitudes and perceptions. Finally, we regressed a scalar version of the general response factor on the structural determinants using the previous models.Findings – We identified a single second-order latent factor underlying the 10 attitudes and perceptions which represented the “general subjective response” of workers. This supported the concept of a dispositional effect. We then found that structural factors had a minimal effect on the subjective response, but that informal arrangements had a very strong effect. This undermined the first two theories and supported the third.Implications – Worker attitudes and perceptions are very resilient to different formal work arrangements but are highly influenced by the informal arrangements negotiated between workers and frontline management. Organizations can have the strongest effect on developing worker support by empowering frontline managers to make informal deals on workplace rules.Originality/value – This study offers a means to probe the relationship between formal and structural and the informal and subjective worlds of the workplace.

Purpose – Addresses labor control in fields where familiar organizational and occupational controls are weak, notably postindustrial arenas characterized by networks, heterogeneity, and change.Methodology/approach – Proposes that labor control operates via socio-technical networks composed of diverse ties to social actors, technologies, and typifications. Data from an interview-based study of early website production work is used to examine the impact of such a network.Findings – Socio-technical networks constrained web workers#x02019; actions but also offered opportunities for autonomous discretion. Some shifting between networked and hierarchical controls occurred in larger organizations.Research implications/limitations – The role of networks in the labor process is not well understood; this study provides a starting point.Social implications – Socio-technical networks are heterogeneous and lack common status metrics, making inequality among workers difficult to gauge and address. Further, since networked controls are decentralized, their pressures are not easily identified or resisted by workers.Originality/value – This chapter describes a form of labor control that may characterize some postindustrial fields more closely than traditional models. In addition, it contributes new insights on how work is shaped by technical networks and abstract typifications.

Purpose – Organizational and work studies consistently find an interrelationship between employees' relationships with coworkers to their morale, as indicated by their satisfaction and commitment levels. This same research shows organizational climate, as indicated by levels of trust and shared values and norms in the organization, strongly benefiting from satisfied and committed employees.Methodology/approach – This chapter concretizes workplace relationships using multipanel network data from 15 Indianapolis charter school teachers.Findings – With these data, network traits related to network cohesion, strong ties, and in-group identity identified as central processes undergirding affective relationships are directly tested. A feedback loop between organizational climate and employee morale, where both mutually reinforce the other, is also discussed.Implications – These findings show that affective relationships with coworkers improve employee morale and organizational climate.

Purpose – While important changes have been made in the American workplace, gender inequality persists. Contemporary analyses of occupational segregation suggest that gendered roles and identities may be playing a role, yet few studies explicitly tackle the effects of occupational identity on female disadvantage at work. Moreover, most previous research ignores the structured, multidimensionality of occupational identity focusing on more overt one-dimensional forms of status differentiation. Using sociological work as a case, these analyses delineate how occupational identities contribute to and differentiate publication success – and thus status hierarchies – for men and women in the sociological field.Findings – Net of human capital, results demonstrate the pronounced effect of the structure of occupational identity on publication: An often hidden form of job-queuing, occupational identities are gendered and influence the publication process. Differential rewards based on subtly gendered distinctions prove an important source of persistent inequalities.Social implications – While gender alone may not directly influence publication in premier research journals for more recent cohorts of sociologists, the gendered nature of research specialization and the distribution of rewards based, in part, on specialization present a troubling, more subtle stratifying mechanism.Originality/value of the chapter – This chapter contributes to our understanding of the puzzling pertinence of gender inequality in the academy by pinpointing how the organization of research into specialties is gendered and how this gendering of research affects important outcomes, such as publication. The paper also contributes to our broader understanding of inequality at work as an example of how occupational identity is multidimensional and networked.

Purpose – This study assesses the extent to which four features of work – supervision, autonomy, creativity, and skill – are associated with different structural forms of social capital. Social capital may enhance actors’ access to diverse information and resources or it may foster mutual commitment and trust. Actors’ draw on these social connections, and the resources embedded therein, when they engage in work activities. The study considers how dense and diverse network structures serve complementary functions to actors engaged in creative and autonomous jobs or for reproducing inequality within firms.Methodology – The analysis uses nationally representative survey data and the position-generator approach to social capital measurement to determine the relationship between three social capital constructs – diversity, hierarchy, and density – and respondents’ work characteristics.Findings – Supervisory, autonomous, creative, and highly skilled workers all have more diverse social networks. Supervisors and skilled workers also have access to high-status contacts. Finally, creative and autonomous workers have more dense social networks.Originality/value – Findings suggest that density and diversity are useful to actors engaged in self-directed or creative work tasks. These findings support theories of complementary network structures that combine access to unique information with the collective ability to pursue goals.

Purpose – Structural embeddedness of social networks within and beyond work organizations has shown its association with the innovation at work for employees from literature. Structural embeddedness includes three dimensions: the diversity, density, and trust of accessed networks. This chapter attempts to compare how structural embeddedness mechanizes on innovation at work differently for employees in hi-tech and non-hi-tech sectors.Methodology/approach – We analyzed 1,817 cases of currently employed respondents from the 2005 Taiwan national survey on social capital. All the indicators on structural embeddedness are operationalized from position-generated networks, and we performed regression models for total, hi-tech, and non-hi-tech samples.Findings – Except the universal effects of diversity on innovation at work for employees in both hi-tech and non-hi-tech sectors, density and trust of accessed networks significantly affect innovation at work only for employees in non-hi-tech sectors. There is a slight interaction effect between trust and density on innovation at workplaces. Those individuals with high-degree trust in accessed networks tend to have a lower degree of innovation while their network density is high. It implies that complementary networks seem to be more useful for applying new ideas at the workplace for non-hi-tech workers.Originality/value of chapter – This chapter contributes to the literature by presenting the importance of structural embeddedness of accessed social networks for innovation at work.

Purpose – This study examines the association between social integration at work and health in three societies, urban China, Taiwan, and the United States.Methodology/approach – It analyzes nationally representative survey data collected simultaneously from those three societies. It measures five indicators of social integration at work (the percentage of work contacts among daily contacts, the number of daily work contacts, the percentage of daily work contacts within the company/organization among all daily work contacts, the number of daily work contacts within the company/organization, and the percentage of work discussants within the company/organization) and two health outcomes (psychological distress and self-reported health limitation).Findings – It finds stronger evidence for the positive health effect of social integration at work in urban China than in Taiwan and the United States.Research limitations/implications – The data set has two limitations: (1) it is cross-sectional; and (2) it was collected from national samples of adults aged 21–64, currently or previously employed, and does not have information on elderly employed adults. This study implies that social integration at work is more likely to protect health in urban China than in Taiwan and the United States.

Purpose – This chapter examines the role of family resources and social networks during the admissions process, across the college years and into postgraduation plans, and considers how different forms of social capital contribute to the intergenerational transmission of advantage.Methodology/approach – I conduct an analysis of survey data from a panel study of students attending a highly selective, private university. First, I examine how social class is associated with admissions resources, including family legacy ties to the institution, and access to campus networks. Next, I test the effects of campus networks and activities on end-of-college outcomes with logistic regression predicting graduation honors and multinomial logistic regression predicting expected and actual occupation about five years after graduation.Findings – A key benefit of an abundance of social capital is the ability to convert resources into other forms of capital and to compensate for deficits in other areas. Extensive campus networks – an example of immediate social capital – are associated with higher levels of academic performance, plans to attend graduate school, and high-status career aspirations. Admission preferences for legacies – an example of institutionalized social capital – disproportionately benefit white students from affluent families and serve to advantage an already advantaged group.Research limitations – This study is restricted to matriculants at an elite university, and results should not be generalized to all postsecondary students. Although social class is associated with differences in family resources and ties to campus, few elite university students enter college from households with absolute deficits of economic, cultural, or social capital.

Purpose – In this chapter, I examine critically the assumption in the literature that many lawyers decide to leave the practice of law, and especially large law firms, due to lawyer dissatisfaction. I take a macro focus on employee flows and networks at large law firms, particularly at the elite level.Methodology/approach – I use a large archival data set of alumni data, internal memos, and newsletters from the 1930s through the 1990s from four large New York City corporate law firms. I perform statistical analysis of 2800 cases. I also include qualitative analysis of the newsletters and firm records of comings and goings. I analyze lawyer migration as a mobility project of lawyers in conjunction with Domhoff#x02019;s class-domination theory to explain the interconnectedness of the corporate community, policy networks, governmental positions, the federal judiciary, and high-powered private lawyers.Findings – I explore the various ways that lawyer migration benefits the original firm by creating or strengthening relationships with other large law firms, corporate clients, and governmental organizations. It is clear that most lawyer departures are not meant to signal negative outcomes. Elite lawyers in large firms make both corporate and political connections through their migration, connections that have important repercussions not only for the lawyers but from their original firms.Originality/value of chapter – A fundamental question for sociological analyses of elite professions, and a more practical concern in the field of legal studies, is why do so many lawyers decide to leave the practice of law? The focus of these accounts, both journalistic and academic, is on the fact that lawyers leave – and, in particular, that they leave the practice of law entirely. The explanatory variable, in many cases, is some variation on individual lawyer dissatisfaction. Instead, I show that most lawyer departures are not meant to signal negative outcomes. Lawyer migration benefits the original firm by creating or strengthening relationships with other large law firms, corporate clients, and governmental organizations.

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Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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