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Rose Deller

February 2nd, 2016

Book Review: Unequal Britain at Work edited by Alan Felstead, Duncan Gallie and Francis Green

1 comment

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Rose Deller

February 2nd, 2016

Book Review: Unequal Britain at Work edited by Alan Felstead, Duncan Gallie and Francis Green

1 comment

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In Unequal Britain at Work, Alan Felstead, Duncan Gallie and Francis Green examine inequalities in job quality in Britain. The authors look beyond income to explore wider changes to working lives, drawing on data procured through six national Skills and Employment Surveys that asked individuals about their jobs between 1986 and 2012. Dan McArthur welcomes this book for its detailed and nuanced empirical analysis of recent transformations in the UK labour market. 

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Hoi Tung WAI (Mandarin LN340, teacher Lijing Shias part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

Unequal Britain at Work. Alan Felstead, Duncan Gallie and Francis Green (eds). Oxford University Press. 2015.

Unequal Britain at WorkOften academic and popular discussions think about jobs only in terms of the pay they offer. This is especially the case when talking about inequality. Scholars have highlighted a link between high-wage jobs in finance and technology and the rapid rise in income inequality that has taken place in many countries since the 1980s. Similarly, debates surrounding gender often focus on the ‘pay gap’ between men and women, without looking at other ways in which their working lives might differ. This edited volume provides a welcome counterpoint to these trends, offering a nuanced analysis of the inequalities that emerge when we look at other features of work, such as working hours, the opportunity to use one’s skills and having a say over how one’s job is organised. These issues are important because working under stressful, pressured or insecure conditions can have serious implications for workers’ long-term health and wellbeing.

The editors and contributors to Unequal Britain at Work are a group of academics specialising in the sociology of work, labour economics, industrial relations and social policy from a largely British standpoint. The book focuses on detailed empirical analysis of inequalities in job quality in Britain. Each chapter presents a variety of complex trends: for example, the effects of unionisation or self-employment on the quality of working life. Methodologically the book is heavily quantitative, and some knowledge of regression modelling is probably essential to get the most from it.

The book is held together by the use of a common set of data: the Skills and Employment Survey Series. This comprises six nationally representative surveys conducted between 1986 and 2012 that asked individuals about their jobs. The surveys allow researchers to investigate whether individuals are doing work that gives them autonomy and control over their lives. They go beyond working hours as a measure to ask whether individuals need to meet tight deadlines, work at high speed or under a lot of time pressures. This rich set of data is a strength of the book, covering a period of dramatic change in Britain’s economy and society that saw de-industrialisation and the decline of trade unions on the one hand, and the increasing participation of women and the passing of national minimum wage laws on the other.

Unequal Britain at Work 2Image Credit: New Street Work Force. The view in Hill Street as the workers return to New Street Railway Station in Birmingham (Gordon Griffiths)

The chapters of the book first look at social class and gender differences in job quality before moving onto specific types of employment: namely, part-time, temporary, union vs non-union and public vs private sector. Each chapter is largely self-contained, which makes the book a useful resource for those seeking to get to grips with inequalities in job quality for a specific group. However, the book as a whole can feel repetitive, and the editors do not make sufficient effort to integrate the findings of each chapter into a coherent narrative about inequalities in job quality and how they have changed over time.

In the opening chapter Alan Felstead, Duncan Gallie and Francis Green make the case that the relationship between pay and job quality is complex. They argue against two fairly simple stories: firstly, that higher paying jobs are generally better jobs in all respects; and secondly, that poor working conditions are generally compensated for by good pay. Neither of these is quite true: high-paying jobs tend to offer more chances to use one’s skills and opportunities to choose how one organises work tasks. However, high-paying jobs tend to have greater work intensity and around the same levels of self-reported job insecurity as lower-paid jobs. Thus, pay cannot be relied on as a good proxy for the intrinsic quality of jobs; we need to look at more specific measures of quality.

The issue of gender inequalities is a theme running through several chapters. Joanne Lindley makes the interesting point that while the gender pay gap has fallen as women have increased their skill levels, other non-wage-based inequalities have persisted. For example, women are more likely to report having to work very hard and at high speed, and this gender gap did not narrow significantly between 1997 and 2012. In another chapter, Tracey Warren and Clare Lyonette point out the increase in the number of women doing high-skilled professional jobs on a part-time basis.

One debate which recurs across chapters concerns the idea of the polarisation of the British labour market. It is clear that wages have polarised by social class, as the wages of higher managers and professionals have pulled away from other groups. However, Gallie reports a very different picture for some non-wage aspects of work. He argues that there has been a process of ‘downward convergence’, driven by decreasing job security and levels of influence over work decisions among managerial and professional classes.

A few chapters are very relevant to policy debate. For example, David Blackaby and colleagues challenge the common media narrative that public sector employees are both better paid than their counterparts in the private sector and have more comfortable working conditions. On the contrary, they find that the pay premium in the public sector can be entirely explained by the higher qualification and skill requirements of public sector jobs, and the worse working conditions, which are found to be more stressful and less autonomous. Their evidence is especially relevant given recent protests by junior doctors in the UK about changes to working hours. The editors conclude with a chapter on how job quality might be improved. Their suggestions are focused on legislative changes that appear relatively easy to implement, such as making it easier for employees to set up work councils and making compulsory the enforcement of at-present voluntary health and safety standards.

Unequal Britain at Work is therefore useful for readers who are interested in detailed and nuanced empirical analysis of how inequalities in job quality in Britain have evolved over time, rather than those seeking broad and easily digestible perspectives.

Dan McArthur is a PhD student in the LSE Department of Sociology and the LSE International Inequalities Institute. His research investigates the relationship between economic inequality and the stigmatisation of people in poverty in public opinion. Dan holds an MSc in Sociology from LSE, and a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford. His broader academic interests include the study of social class, comparative political economy, the philosophy of social science and sociological debates about immigration and multiculturalism.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

书评:《英国的不平等工作》 Alan Felstead, Duncan Gallie and Francis Green. Oxford University Press. 2015.

Review translated by Hoi Tung WAI (Mandarin LN340, teacher Lijing Shi).

很多时候学术和大众的讨论只考虑工作的薪酬方面,当谈论不平等的时候更是如此。学者们一向强调了自1980年代来许多国家快速增长的收入不平等与金融技术业的高工资之间的联系 。围绕性别的辩论也通常侧重于男性和女性之间的 “薪酬差距”,而不考虑其不同的工作方式。而这本书对照上述趋势, 通过工作的其他属性来细致分析工作不平等,比如, 工作时间, 个人技能使用的机会和安排个人工作的自由度。这些属性非常重要,因为在紧张高压力或不安全的条件下工作,会严重影响在职人士的长期健康和福祉。

《英国的不平等工作》的编者和作者大多是从英国立场上研究工作社会学,劳动经济学,劳资关系和社会政策的学者。本书着重于英国工作质量不平等的详细实证分析。每一个章节都展示出多种复杂的趋势, 例如: 工会化或自营就业对工作生活质量的影响。在论证方法上,这本书以量化论证为主,所以具备一定回归分析的知识能帮助更好地理解该书内容。


Image Credit: New Street Work Force. The view in Hill Street as the workers return to New Street Railway Station in Birmingham (Gordon Griffiths)


在开头的章节里, Alan Felstead,Duncan Gallie和Francis Green提出了工资和工作质量之间的关系是很复杂的论点。他们反对两个相当简单的叙述:第一,高薪工作通常是更好的工作; 第二,贫穷的工作环境通常由工资补偿。但这些都不是正确的。 高薪工作往往提供更多使用自己技能的机会, 以及有机会选择如何组织工作任务。但高薪工作往往工作强度更大,并且其不稳定性与低薪工作大致相同。因此,薪酬不能作为衡量工作质量的标准; 我们需要看更具体的测量质量的标准。

性别不平等的主题贯穿了好几章。 Joanne Lindley提出了一个有趣的观点:尽管性别之间的工资差距随着妇女提高其技能水平而缩小,但其他基于非工资的不平等现象仍然存在。例如,妇女更有可能被视为必须非常勤奋地工作,这种性别差距在1997年至2012年间并没有显著缩小。在另一章中, Tracey Warren 和Clare Lyonette指出, 以兼职方式从事高技能专业工作的妇女人数有所增加。


该书有几章的主题与政策辩论非常相关。例如,David Blackaby及其同事对大众媒体的叙述提出质疑,即公共部门的员工比私营部门的员工薪酬更高,工作条件更舒适。相反,他们发现公共部门的薪酬溢价完全是由于公共部门要求更高的工作资格和技能及其更糟糕的工作条件;后者被认为是更有压力且更不自主。他们的证据与英国初级医生最近抗议工作时间的变化尤其相关 。编辑们的最后一章是关于如何改善工作质量。他们的建议集中在相对容易实施的立法方面,例如降低雇员成立工作委员会的门槛,以及加强执行现有的健康和安全标准。


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Rose Deller

Posted In: Britain and Ireland | Contributions from LSE Staff and Students | Economics | Reviews in Translation | Sociology/Anthropology


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