Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-08292021-221205

Type of thesis
Essays on labour: perspectives on social classes, knowledge and power within organisations
Scientific disciplinary sector
Istituto di Economia - JOINT PHD IN ECONOMICS
relatore Prof. DOSI, GIOVANNI
  • Inequality
  • Technical Change
  • Labour Markets
  • Occupational Structure
  • Teleworking
  • Covid-19
Exam session start date
The aim of this thesis is to offer an original perspective on the world of work, combining the evolutionary approach in economic theory with the sociology of work. It departs from a neoclassical perspective according to which labour can be defined as a factor of production whose degree of substitution with capital only depends on its relative price. On the contrary, a more complex interpretation of labour is presented, deepening in particular the notions of social classes, innovation and learning dynamics, distribution of knowledge and power within organizations and the stratification of socio-economic risks.<br><br>Italy is at the centre of the analysis. In fact, thanks to the availability of rich and heterogeneous databases, we are able to investigate the specificities of a country that has experienced significant institutional changes in the last decades, witnessing rising income inequality, decreasing innovative capabilities and worsening productivity dynamics. Nevertheless, a comparative perspective is developed theoretically throughout the thesis and empirically in the second study, where the relation between innovation and labour market institutions is investigated in different European countries.<br><br>In the first study, we analyze wage inequality trends in Italy from 1983 to 2018 relying on INPS administrative data that provide information on average salaries by job category, age, gender, and geographical origin. An overall pattern of exacerbated inequalities is documented by means of different indicators since 1993, when important policy reforms were introduced in particular with respect to the labour market. The empirical analysis highlights how the within-component of the wage variation prevails in the gender, age and geographical dimensions, while the between-component dominates only when we partition the workforce in terms of professional categories (trainees, blue-collar jobs, white-collar jobs, middle managers, executives). This confirms that job categories, broadly framed as positions within social classes, still represent the most important source of wage inequality.<br><br>Once ascertained the link between inequality and national institutional changes, the attention is devoted, in the second study, to investigating the impact of labour market deregulation and innovation dynamics at sectoral level. We do so by exploring the relationship between temporary employment and product innovation in five European economies (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands) between 1998 and 2012. Building on the evolutionary conceptual framework of technological regimes, the analysis shows not only that industries using temporary employment tend to have a weaker product innovation propensity, but that the negative correlation becomes stronger in those sectors where firms’ tacit knowledge is crucial to the development of new ideas.<br><br>After having stressed the importance of knowledge in characterizing the learning and innovation process within organizations, we move in the third study to an in-depth analysis of the Italian occupation structure with the aim of assessing its anatomy. Taking stock of the most recent wave of the ICP survey, a unique micro dataset comparable to the American O*NET, we perform an extensive empirical investigation moving from the micro to the macro level of aggregation. Our results show that the Italian occupational structure is strongly hierarchical, with the locus of power distinct from the locus of knowledge generation. It results to be weak in terms of horizontal and cooperative practices, with an under-diffusion of creativity at work. The analysis identifies hierarchical structures, decision-making autonomy, and knowledge as the most relevant attributes characterizing the division of labour.<br><br>In the last study, we investigate how the explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular the massive diffusion of telework, can impact on those enduring divides presented in the previous chapters. First, we identify occupations that can and cannot be performed from home on the basis of information contained in the ICP on tasks and work context. We find that the possibility of telework concerns only a minority of the workforce, mainly those at the top of the organizational hierarchy (managers, entrepreneurs and legislators), together with scientific-intellectual and technical professions. Then, we study how jobs’ tele-workability interacts with an enlarged definition of socio-economic risk stratification, exploiting labour force data from 2011 to 2017. We find that those individuals who are not able to perform their work remotely are more exposed, already in ordinary times, to unemployment, low wages, safety and health risks at work. Moreover, being woman and employed with a temporary contract significantly amplifies risk stratification.<br><br>Combining several empirical methodologies, datasets and time periods, the thesis aims at providing a fresco of some crucial features of the labour process. In particular, it accounts for the presence of enduring disparities across the workforce not only in terms of income and job stability, but also in terms of autonomy in performing the job, knowledge endowment and power relations. All these factors can contribute to understanding the evolution of the social fabric of contemporaneous capitalism, even more in the light of the current pandemic crisis.<br>