The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer: Country- and State-Level Income Inequality Moderates the Job Insecurity-Burnout Relationship

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Abstract

Despite the prevalence of income inequality in today’s society, research on the implications of income inequality for organizational research is scant. This study takes the first step to explore the contextual role of national- and state- level income inequality as a moderator in the relationship between individual-level job insecurity (JI) and burnout. Drawing from conservation of resource (COR) theory, we argue that income inequality at the country-level and state-level threatens one’s obtainment of object (i.e., material coping) and condition (i.e., nonmaterial coping) resources, thus serving as an environmental stressor exacerbating one’s burnout reactions to JI. The predicted cross-level interaction effect of income inequality was tested in 2 studies. Study 1 consisting of 23,778 individuals nested in 30 countries explored the moderating effect of country-level income inequality on the relationship between individual JI and exhaustion. Study 2 collected data from 402 employees residing in 48 states in the United States, and tested the moderating effect of state-level income inequality on the relationship between JI and burnout (i.e., emotional exhaustion and cynicism). Results of both studies converge to support the exacerbating role of higher-level income inequality on the JI -burnout relationship. Our findings contribute to the literature on psychological health disparities by exploring the contextual role of income inequality as a predictor of differential reactions to JI.

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