Justifications of Inequality: The Normative Basis of Pay Differentials in 31 Nations


  • *Direct correspondence to M. D. R. Evans, Department of Sociology, UNR ms 300, Reno, NV 89557 〈mevans@unr.edu〉. Data and coding information available upon request from M. D. R. Evans. We thank the Australian Research Council for its Grant ARC/RIEF R00002808, which supported the work of coding the data to a common international standard.


Objectives. We investigate social consensus and dissensus within and between nations in three important justifications for pay differences: family needs, performance on the job, and education/authority.

Methods. Data are from 31 nations and 66,777 individual respondents analyzed using structural equation and multilevel regression methods with multiple imputation of missing data.

Results. In poor countries, but not in rich, most believe that family needs legitimate higher pay. Within countries—particularly English-speaking ones—low SES groups endorse family needs, but high SES groups reject them. Valuing performance and effort is widespread throughout the world and throughout all segments of society, high and low. Education and authority are widely valued, more in poor nations than in rich, with some demographic differences but few socioeconomic cleavages.

Conclusions. There is conflict both within nations and between them as to whether need and education/authority justify unequal pay, but consensus that performance on the job does justify it.