Categorical Distinctions and Claims-Making: Opportunity, Agency, and Returns from Wage Negotiations

Carsten Sauer*, Peter Valet, Safi Shams, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In this article, we examine wage negotiations as a specific instance of claims-making, predicting that the capacity to make a claim is first a function of the position, rather than the person, and that lower-status actors—women, migrants, fixed-term, part-time, and unskilled workers—are all more likely to be in positions where negotiation is not possible. At the same time, subordinate-status actors may be less likely to make claims even where negotiation is possible, and when they do make wage claims they may receive lower or no returns to negotiation. Analyses of wage negotiations by more than 2,400 German employees largely confirm these theoretical expectations, although the patterns of opportunity, agency, and economic returns vary by categorical status. All low-status actors are more likely to be in jobs where negotiation is not possible. Women, people in lower-class jobs, and people with temporary contracts are less likely to negotiate even when given the opportunity. Regarding returns, agency in wage claims does not seem to improve the wages of women, migrants, or working-class individuals. The advice to “lean-in” will not substantially lower wage inequalities for everyone, although men who lean in do benefit relative to men who do not.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)934-959
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© American Sociological Association 2021.


  • categorical distinctions
  • claims-making
  • relational inequalities


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