Low-Wage Work in Europe and the United States: Phase II

Awarded Scholars:
Internal Appropriation, Russell Sage Foundation
Project Date:
Jun 2006
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work

Supplemental Award: $61,729, November, 2008

In 2003, the Russell Sage Foundation published Low Wage America, a multi-industry study of the quality of low-wage jobs in the United States. The picture that emerged was one of deteriorating job quality, as increasing competitive pressure from various sources forced firms to freeze wages, intensify work, reduce benefits, and increase their reliance on automation, out-sourcing and immigrant labor. In 2004, the Foundation decided to mount a comparative study of the quality of low-wage employment in Europe, in order to determine whether European institutions, facing similar economic pressures, performed any better than U.S. institutions in sustaining the quality of bottom-tier jobs. 

The Foundation selected five European countries for the study – Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K. – and picked target jobs that are all low-wage in the U.S. to anchor the European case studies: nurses’ aids in general hospitals, operators in call centers, housekeepers in hotels, line workers in food processing plants, and retail clerks in grocery stores and electronics outlets. A team of scholars in each country produced an overview of the institutional structure and recent performance of their country’s labor market, industry reports charting competitive conditions in each of the five industries selected for study, and case studies of the quality of the target jobs in eight firms in each industry. In Phase I of the project, each national team produced a monograph analyzing how institutions in their country have shaped firms’ responses to competitive pressures and the consequences for low-wage workers. In Phase II of the study, the European scholars, joined by participants from the American study, produced Low-Wage Work in the Wealthy World, which makes explicit comparisons across labor markets and institutions in all five European countries and the U.S.



RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.