Accounting for the “working poor”: analysing the living wage debate in Aotearoa New Zealand

Peter Skilling, Helen Tregidga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: To analyse justifications for, and accounting’s role in, arguments for and against the living wage.

Design/methodology/approach: A systematic content analysis of arguments made for and against the living wage in a range of secondary data sources is conducted. Boltanski and Thévenot’s typology of “orders of worth” provides the framework for analysis.

Findings: Arguments for a living wage are found to draw on a range of orders of worth. These arguments hold that while market signals have a valid role in informing wage decisions, such decisions should also take into account the civic order’s emphasis on collective outcomes, the industrial order’s emphasis on long-term organisational performance, and an emphasis on the inherent dignity of the human worker drawn from the domestic and inspired orders. Business arguments against a living wage hold that the current weight given to the tests and objectives of the market order is optimal and that a living wage would undermine firm competitiveness and, ultimately, collective well-being. Justifications of existing low-wage practices are shown to be reflected in, and naturalised by, accounting discourses and practices.

Originality/value: This study contributes to the emergent literature on the relationship between accounting and inequality. It elucidates accounting’s role in supporting the market order of worth and thus the stabilisation and perpetuation of income inequalities. Its analysis of the orders of worth invoked by those calling for a living wage contribute to the task of imagining and constructing an alternative, more equitable, accounting discourse and practice.

Keywords: income inequality, accounting for inequality, social accounting, pragmatic sociology

Paper type: Research paper
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2031-2061
Number of pages31
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number7
Early online date13 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Cite this