How does wage stickiness contribute to the gender wage gap?

Today I am going to discuss the relationship between the gender pay gap and wage stickiness.

Wages are termed sticky when they don’t adjust to the optimal level driven by the changes in labour market conditions. The interaction between sticky wages and economic shocks helps to generate the business cycle, and also causes a lot of the most costly elements of an economic downturn – unemployment and losses in skills. 

As I have discussed in a previous post, prices as well as wages can be sticky. However, the focus here is on the inability for wages to change from a predetermined path – specifically the downward rigidity of money wages.

A strong reason why wages can be very sticky is unionisation.  Unions and employers both use size to generate a bargaining position to negotiate wages.  As part of this strategic negotiation, unions (at least in the Anglo-Saxon sense) tend to promote relatively sticky wages – and demand persistent increases in wages even when the economic cycle turns south.

But what does this have to do with wage inequality?

Note:  There are multiple models of unionisation and social assistance – Matty pointed out that the books “Varieties of Capitalism” and Chapter 13 of the Oxford handbook of the welfare state are a useful read for thinking about this.  The response of unions in Germany during the GFC and COVID show that the relationship between unions and stickiness is complex – and the assumption they are related is based on the experience of Anglo-American economies in the 1960-1980s.

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