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Income inequality in professional and vocational occupations

Programme group Institutions, Inequalities and Life courses (IIL)

This project investigates the link between occupational closure and income inequality in Norway, and examines how this connects with social inequality. In doing so, it addresses one of the core concerns of VAM, being the economic and social development of the Norwegian welfare society.

The sustainability of the Norwegian welfare model builds on a labour market organization that maintains a compressed wage structure and high employment rates. It is a model that has promoted social mobility, equality and prosperity; yet, it is also a model under pressure. However the external threats are well known, the internal threats are less discussed.

The expansion of the educated middle-class has the potential of destabilizing this model, as redistribution to the top and the bottom of the income distribution can become more challenging when the middle-class constitutes the majority. The social classes have diverging interests in the income distribution and so far, the income levels of the middle-class have been held back in solidarity with the low-income earners. This project thus addresses topics in three thematic priority areas concerning support for the welfare state, solidarity and social equality, and the consequences that labour organization, regulation and labour migration have on the wage distribution.


Institutional inequality is of great academic, political and societal interest and controversy, and relates to ethnic inequality, social class inequality and the gender pay gap. Until now, little attention has been paid to the manner in which occupational groups are internally structured with regard to equality among incumbents. In order to gain understanding on the extent to which wage levels are affected by occupational closure, further research is required.

The project will seek to investigate whether processes of occupational closure create inclusionary and exclusionary mechanisms in the labour market based on ethnicity, immigrant status and/or social class background. The mechanisms underlying occupational closure might interact with these bases of exclusion in ways that could reduce inequality on basis of personal characteristics. This side of closure theory is highly underdeveloped. This research therefore focuses on the impact closure strategies have on the overall distribution of incomes, both between and within occupations, and the manner in which unions and associations negotiate closure practices.


With the aim of conducting innovative empirical research and ground breaking theory development, this project combines quantitative and qualitative research methods. Because the topic of interest is structural, administrative register data is used with great benefit. The qualitative work is comparative and seeks to understand how associations and unions navigate and manage professional interest, which strategies are pursued, how these are justified, including analysing the sources of closure, and what their ultimate aim is. It will give authorities and unions knowledge about the consequences of (de)regulation of occupations and increasing skills demands for wages


Funding: Norwegian Research Council 

dr. T. (Thijs) Bol

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Institutions, Inequalities and Life courses