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Cumulative gender disadvantage in contract employment


American Journal of Sociology


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Authors / Editors

Fernandez-Mateo I

Publication Year



Women’s wages do not grow with experience or tenure as much as men’s do. Many accounts of this cumulative gender disadvantage attribute it to women’s underinvestment in firm-specific skills. Yet if that were true, this disadvantage would not exist where firm-specific skills are not rewarded by the labor market. This article investigates this argument in the context of contract employment, where demand for firm specificity is minimal. Contrary to expectations, men still receive higher rewards than women over time. Drawing on quantitative evidence and qualitative fieldwork using job histories of high-skill contractors affiliated with a staffing firm, the author finds support for two sources of women’s disadvantage: lower rates of movement across clients on the supply side and unmeasured demand-side factors by which similar levels of tenure and client transitions accrue lower rewards to women. Implications for research on gender stratification and career advancement in nonformalized labor markets are discussed.

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