The exclusion mechanisms that underly inequality

Animatie van een kloof; tussen een man en een vrouw

What underlies the gaps between the better off and the worse off, and how do these gaps persist? Despite acknowledging the multiplicity of causes and consequences and the complexity of the underlying mechanisms, most economic studies of inequality gaps reduce the focus to differences between rich and poor in a one-size-fits-all way. However, the ‘size’ used in this approach only fits the average man, which is seen as the norm(al), as reference man. This view, in line with the American Dream, relies on the assumption of upward mobility that suggests that if people make the right choices and work hard enough, they can bridge the gap.

The assumption is supported by a specific understanding of market mechanisms, where persons are viewed as ‘individuals’ and inequalities as ‘accidental’ events. The examination of inequalities, the variety of their forms and underlying mechanisms requires an investigation that goes beyond the average man and that takes concepts of identity and exclusion to the core of its analysis. 

On Tuesday 28 March 2023, Merve Burnazoglu defended her PhD thesis Inequalities Beyond the Average Man: The Political Economy of Identity-Based Stratification Mechanisms in Markets and Policy. In her dissertation, she presents a political economy of identity and identity-based stratification mechanisms. It argues that stratification mechanisms produce and reproduce structural relationships between identities and inequalities. Primarily applied to the study of migrant’s integration, it develops novel explanations of some of the ways in which identity-based stratification mechanisms operate in markets and policy. It integrates the standard economic approaches with stratification and feminist economics, and with empirical studies on the integration of migrants. It concludes that just as who people are and how they are seen, labeled, and treated matter, so do identity and inequalities beyond the average man

Standard economic approach unable to account for the heterogeneity of labor migrants

Burnazoglu argues that the standard economic approach to integration of migrants is unable to account for the heterogeneity of labor migrants and the complex nature of their interactions with their new environment. To challenge this, she develops a social identity-based matching approach to migrants’ integration into established social systems.

Furthermore, arguing that identity-based exclusion plays a structural and functional role in maintaining the hierarchy of social groups, Burnazoglu introduces social stratification as a structural approach to exclusion in labour markets. Investigating whether stratification is an inescapable trap for migrant groups, she argues that the failure of migrants’ integration is a collective action problem associated with how societies organize labour markets in a club-like way with sharply different sets of opportunities for different people. 

Burnazoglu also develops the concept of ‘algorithmic stratification’ to illustrate identity-based structural exclusion mechanisms. With this, she examines the ways in which the use of automated decision-making systems and algorithms in general contribute to the social reproduction of a stratified society. 

Merve Burnazoglu is Assistant Professor and PhD student at the Utrecht University School of Economics (U.S.E.).

More information

Would you like to know more about this PhD research? Please contact Merve Burnazoglu via or read the PhD thesis.

Go to the PhD thesis 'Inequalities Beyond the Average Man' (Utrecht University Repository)