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Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 901–917 | Cite as

How can wages sustain a living? By getting ahead of the curve

  • Stuart Colin CarrEmail author
  • Molefe MalekaEmail author
  • Ines MeyerEmail author
  • Marie-Louise BarryEmail author
  • Jarrod HaarEmail author
  • Jane Parker
  • James Arrowsmith
  • Christian Yao
  • Darrin Hodgetts
  • Harvey Jones
  • Amanda Young-Hausner
  • Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o
  • Ann-Helen Rasmussen
  • Siautu Alefaio-Tugia
  • Ben Falealili
  • Kate Mafile’o
  • Tokilupe Pikula
  • Natassia Wolfgramm
  • Holika ‘Uhila
  • Yvonne Falealili
  • Arno Grueber
  • Leo Berlim
  • Emalata Hausia
  • Mary Ntsweng
  • Jafta Koza
  • Doutzen Groothof
  • Susan van Schie
  • Isabel Lyckholm
  • Abhigyan Naithani
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Sustainable Production and Consumption

Abstract

Work may be a panacea for poverty but the world of work in 2018 is characterised by ‘Working Poverty,’ including poor wages. Living wages are a contested idea for resolving the paradox, with empirical evidence on how they might do so being scarce. Theoretically, a living wage enables people to escape from poverty traps, indicated by qualitative improvements in quality of work and life beyond a set income. Alternatively, diminishing marginal returns suggest that any wage is a good wage, particularly at low pay levels. We explored these possibilities with almost 900 low-income workers across two diverse countries, New Zealand and South Africa, on reliable indicators of workplace justice, job quality, and life satisfaction. A coherent pattern occurred: trap-rise-pause-rise. At wages below ± $2000 per month, workers felt trapped in injustice, disengagement and dissatisfaction; above, they reported the opposite. This rise was starker in South Africa, where income inequality was highest. After a pause in satisfaction level (rising aspiration/relative deprivation), levels rose, with diminishing marginal returns. This pattern of trap-rise-pause-rise links two ‘competing’ theories of sustainable livelihood. Each matters but at different points on one wage spectrum. Wages may become ‘living’ only once they get ahead of a cusp in a wages-wellbeing curve, at a point or range determined empirically. Replicating this pattern across two very different countries suggests robustness, and may be a promising step towards a science of sustainable livelihood. However, we still require more systematic sampling, across more countries and groups, before the findings may be generalized.

Keywords

Income inequality New Zealand Living wages Poverty reduction South Africa Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, 8, 10 Working Poverty 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We wish to express our appreciation for some invaluable feedback from three peer reviewers of an earlier version of this manuscript. This feedback transformed our own understanding of the data and has accordingly in places even been incorporated verbatim. For seed funding and financial support, we thank the following organizations and people: Tshwane University of Technology/Dept. for Higher Education & Training (DHET); Humanitarian Donation Ines Meyer; Vice-Chancellor Discretionary Fund, Massey University; ARA Institute of Canterbury. Thanks to William Cochrane, University of Waikato (for suggesting LOESS curves). We remain grateful to two peer reviewers and supportive editors for their feedback on a related but different manuscript on this topic. Research in this paper was jointly presented, by invitation, at the International Congress of Psychology held in Yokohama Japan (2016). It was also presented, by invitation in each case, at the Science Forum South Africa: Igniting Conversations about Science (2016 and 2017); the Asian Psychological Association; the University of Geneva; the Academy of Management; the UN Social Commission in New York City; Rotary Club in Albany Auckland; the American Psychological Association; Pace University; Fordham University, New York. These presentations were part supported by EPIC (End Poverty & Inequality Cluster), at Massey University, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart Colin Carr
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Molefe Maleka
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Ines Meyer
    • 5
    • 6
    Email author
  • Marie-Louise Barry
    • 7
    • 8
    Email author
  • Jarrod Haar
    • 9
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jane Parker
    • 10
    • 2
  • James Arrowsmith
    • 10
    • 2
  • Christian Yao
    • 10
    • 2
  • Darrin Hodgetts
    • 1
    • 2
  • Harvey Jones
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amanda Young-Hausner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o
    • 1
    • 2
    • 11
  • Ann-Helen Rasmussen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 11
  • Siautu Alefaio-Tugia
    • 1
    • 2
    • 11
  • Ben Falealili
    • 2
    • 11
  • Kate Mafile’o
    • 2
    • 11
  • Tokilupe Pikula
    • 2
    • 11
  • Natassia Wolfgramm
    • 2
    • 11
  • Holika ‘Uhila
    • 2
    • 11
  • Yvonne Falealili
    • 2
    • 11
  • Arno Grueber
    • 2
    • 11
  • Leo Berlim
    • 2
    • 11
  • Emalata Hausia
    • 2
    • 11
  • Mary Ntsweng
    • 4
  • Jafta Koza
    • 4
  • Doutzen Groothof
    • 5
    • 6
  • Susan van Schie
    • 5
    • 6
  • Isabel Lyckholm
    • 7
    • 8
  • Abhigyan Naithani
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.EPIC (End Poverty & Inequality Cluster), Massey UniversityAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.GLOWAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Tshwane University of TechnologyPretoria/TshwaneSouth Africa
  4. 4.GLOWPretoria/TshwaneSouth Africa
  5. 5.University of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  6. 6.GLOWCape TownSouth Africa
  7. 7.ARA Institute of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  8. 8.GLOWChristchurchNew Zealand
  9. 9.Auckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand
  10. 10.MPOWERAucklandNew Zealand
  11. 11.Affirming WorksAucklandNew Zealand

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