Distinct paths to higher inequality?. A Qualitative Comparative Analysis of rising earnings inequality among U.S. States, 1980-2010.

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4 Scopus citations


In this paper Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is used to explore the extent to which states have taken distinct causal paths to higher levels of earnings inequality within the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and during the early years of the 2007-09 recession. In these analyses special attention is paid to both the regional unfolding of the processes constituting economic restructuring and whether state institutional arrangements appear to mediate the impacts of inequality-increasing developments. Overall, these analyses suggest that industry and occupational shifts are critical to understanding state and regional experiences; state variation in changes in earnings inequality are, in large part, a story of the continuous playing out of economic restructuring in unique ways in different areas of the country. However, the subnational impact of the growth or decline of particular types of occupations on the earnings distribution is found to be highly contingent, depending on both the types of jobs gained or lost and the institutional and economic context in which those developments occur. It is suggested that the overall contribution of industry shifts to rising inequality may be underemphasized, in part, as a result of a reliance on analytical approaches that are ill-suited to capture the complicated and contingent nature of the impacts of processes such as deindustrialization. These analyses contribute to a growing body of work that employs a distinctly sociological approach in which earnings determination is viewed as multi-level phenomenon. Building on this insight, this paper suggests that changes in subnational levels of inequality may also be usefully conceptualized as an inherently combinatorial phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-57
Number of pages28
JournalResearch in Social Stratification and Mobility
StatePublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Deindustrialization
  • Earnings inequality
  • Economic restructuring
  • QCA
  • Qualitative comparative analysis
  • Subnational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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