Inequality Regimes in Grocery Stores: Intersections of Gender, Hierarchies, and Working Conditions




Health, Working Environment & Wellbeing, Gender, Ethnicity, Age and Diversity, Organization & Management


This article explores the extent to which spatial and hierarchical divisions of work in grocery stores intersect with gender, and resulting inequalities in employees’ working conditions. Our empirical basis is individual and group interviews conducted with managers and employees at two grocery stores in Sweden. The theoretical concept of inequality regimes serves as an analytical tool for understanding if and how multiple intersecting processes produce and maintain inequalities in working conditions. The findings show that hierarchical and gendered inequalities are (re)created in the stores, for both permanently and temporarily employed workers. The organizing processes include a functional and gendered division of the workforce together with a division based on terms of employment mainly based on the profit generated by the goods handled in each department. The study shows how spatial divisions related to hierarchy, status, and gender intersect in creating inequalities in employees’ working conditions, career opportunities, and the physical and psycho- social working environment.

Author Biographies

Gunilla Olofsdotter, Mid Sweden University

Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. E-mail:

Malin Bolin, Mid Sweden University

Senior Lecturer, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Svend Erik Mathiassen, University of Gävle

Professor, Department of Occupational Health Science and Psychology


Abrahamsson, L. (2000). Att återställa ordningen. Könsmönster och förändring i arbetsorganisationer. [Restoring the order. Gender patterns and change in work organizations], Borea.

Abrahamsson, L.(2014). Gender and the modern organization, ten years after. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 4(4): 109–36. doi: 10.19154/njwls.v4i4.4710

Abrahamsson, L., & Johansson, J. (2013). One hundred years of inertia: an exposé of the concept of the psychosocial environment in Swedish policy and research. Nordic Journal or Working Life Studies 3(1): 5–29. doi: 10.19154/njwls.v3i1.2518

Acker, J. (1990). Hierarchies, jobs, bodies: a theory of gendered organizations. Gender & Society 4(2): 13958. doi: 10.1177/089124390004002002

Acker, J. (2000). Revisiting class: thinking from gender, race, and organizations. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society 7: 192–214. doi: 10.1093/sp/7.2.192

Acker, J. (2006a). Class questions. Feminist answers, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Acker, J. (2006b). Inequality regimes: gender, class, and race in organizations. Gender & Society 20(4): 441–64. doi: 10.1177/0891243206289499

Acker, J. (2009). From glass ceiling to inequality regimes. Sociologie du Travail 51(2): 199–217. doi: 10.1016/j.soctra.2009.03.004

Acker, J. (2012). Gendered organizations and intersectionality: problems and possibilities. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 31(3): 214–224.

doi: 10.1108/02610151211209072

Anton, D., & Weeks, D.I. (2016). Prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal symptoms among grocery workers. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 54: 139–45. doi: 10.1016/j.ergon.2016.05.006

Atkinson, J. (1984). Manpower strategies for flexible organisations. Personnel Management 16(8): 28 –31.

Balogh, I., Ohlsson, K., Nordander, C,. Björk, J., & Hansson, G.Å. (2016). The importance of work organization on workload and musculoskeletal health–grocery store work as a model. Applied Ergonomics 53: 143–51. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2015.09.004

Berggren, C., & Carlén, S. (2016). En dålig affär. En studie av otrygga anställningar i detaljhandeln. [A bad deal. A study of precarious employment in the retail trade], Handelns utredningsgrupp.

Bolin, M., & Olofsdotter, G. (2019). "Bringing organizations back in: Going from healthy work to healthy workplaces." Nordic journal of working life studies. 9:4, doi:

Boman, J., Carlén, S., & Strömbäck, A. (2012). Utarbetad eller utbytbar. Hur otrygga jobb påverkar arbetsmiljön i detaljhandeln. [Worn out or exchangeable. How insecure jobs affect the work environment in retailing], Handelsn utredningsgrupp.

Broadbridge, A. (2007). Dominated by women: managed by men? The career development process of retail managers. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. 35(12): 956–74. doi: 10.1108/09590550710835193

Carlén, S & de los Reyes, P. (2021) Ojämlikhet och polarisering i detaljhandeln 1990–2015. [Inequality and polarization i retail 1990–2015]. Boréus, K,. Neergard, A & Sohl, L (eds) Ojämlika arbetsplatser. Hierarkier, diskriminering och strategier för jämlikhet [Unequal workplaces. Hierarchies, discrimination and strategies for equality], Nordic Academic Press.

Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design. Choosing among five approaches. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Degiuli, F., & Kollmeyer, C. (2007). Bringing Gramsci back in: labor control in Italy’s new temporary help industry. Work, Employment & Society 21(3): 497–515. doi: 10.1177/0950017007080011

Fielding, N., & Thomas, H. (2001). Qualitative interviewing. In Researching Social Life, 2nd ed., N. Gilbert (ed.). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Forciera, L., Lapointeb, C., Lortiec, M., Buckled, P., Kuorinkae, I., Lemairef, J., & Beaugranda, S. (2008). Supermarket workers: their work and their health, particularly their self-reported musculoskeletal problems and compensable injuries. Work 30: 1–18.

Geijer, P., & Menckel, E. (2003). Hot och våld i detaljhandeln. En kunskapsöversikt baserad på

nationell och internationell forskning. [Threats and violence in the retail trade. A knowledge overview based on national and international research], Arbetsmiljöverket. Stockholm.

Handeln. (2018). Fakta om anställningsformer och arbetstider i handeln 2018. [Facts about forms of employment and working hours in retailing 2018], Utredningsgruppen.

Johansson, K. (2016). In a male workplace, things would never be like this: using gendered notions to neutralize conflicts in a Swedish supermarket. Gender, Work & Organization 23(5): 505 –17. doi:10.1111/gwao.12137

Johansson, K,. Fältholm, Y., & Abrahamsson, L. (2015a). Job rotation meets gendered and routine work in Swedish supermarkets. NORA–Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 23(2): 109–24. doi: 10.1080/08038740.2014.990920

Johansson, K., & Lundgren, A. S. (2015b). Gendering boundary work: exploring excluded spaces in supermarket job rotation. Gender, Place & Culture 22(2): 188–204. doi: 10.1080/0966369x.2013.879107

Kalleberg, A. L. (2000). Nonstandard employment relations: part-time, temporary and contract work. Annual Review of Sociology 26: 341–65. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.341

Kalleberg, A. L. (2001). Organizing Flexibility; The Flexible Firm in a New Century. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 39:4:479-504. doi:10.1111/1467-8543.00211

Kalleberg, A. L. (2009). Precarious work, insecure workers: employment relations in transition. American Sociological Review 74(1): 1–22. doi:10.2307/27736045

Kvist, E. (2006). Stormarknadens nya maktordningar: från kassörskor och butikschefer till (o) demokratiska arbetslag. [New power structures in supermarkets: from cashiers and store managers to (un)democratic work teams], Umeå: Umeå University.

Lundberg, U., Elfsberg Dohns, I., Melin, B., Sandsjö, L., Palmerud, G., Kadefors, R., Ekström, M., & Parr, D. (1999). Psychophysiological stress responses, muscle tension, and neck and shoulder pain among supermarket cashiers. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 4(3): 245. doi: 10.1037/1076-8998.4.3.245

Lykke Nielsen, M., Görlich, A., Grytnes, R., & Dyreborg, J. (2017). Without a safety net: precarization among young Danish employees. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 7(3): 3–22. doi:10.18291/njwls.v7i3.97094

Lykke Nielsen, M., Dyreborg, J., Kines, P., Nielsen, K. & Rasmussen, K. (2013). Exploring and expanding the category of ‘young workers’ according to situated ways of doing risk and safety—a case study in the retail industry. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 3(3): 219–43. doi:10.19154/njwls.v3i3.3019

Mathiassen, S. E. (2006). "Diversity and variation in biomechanical exposure: what is it, and why would we like to know?" Applied Ergonomics 37(4):419-27.

Mathiassen, S. E., Bolin, M., Olofsdotter, G. & Johansson, E. (2020). "Equal health at

work? Protocol for an observational study of work organisation, workload and

musculoskeletal complaints among women and men in grocery retail." BMJ Open 10(1).

Merriam, S.B., & Tisdell, E.J. (2015). Qualitative research: a guide to design and implementation, John Wiley & Sons.

Morgan, D (ed.). (1993). Successful focus groups: advancing the state of the art, Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Padula, R. S., Comper, M. L. C., Sparer, E. H., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2017). Job rotation designed to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and control risk in manufacturing industries: a systematic review. Applied Ergonomics 58: 386–97. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2016.07.018

Sandberg, Å. (2013). Nordic Lights. Work, Management and Welfare in Scandinavia. SNS Förlag.

Sansone, V., Bonora, C., Boria, P., & Meroni, R. (2014). Women performing repetitive work: is there a difference in the prevalence of shoulder pain and pathology in supermarket cashiers compared to the general female population? International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 27(5): 722–35. doi:10.2478/s13382-014-0292-6

Strandlund, E., Bernhard-Oettel, C., & Låstad, L. (2018). Otrygghet–oro–ohälsa? En studie bland handelsanställda. [Insecure – anxiety – ill health? A study among employees in retail]. Arbetsmarknad & Arbetsliv 24(1–2): 27–46.

Sundin, E. (2001). Gender-determined jobs and job-rotation: problems and possibilities. The Service Industries Journal 21(3): 87–112. doi:10.1080/714005032 87-112.

Tilly, C. (1998). Durable inequality, Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Tolich, M., & Briar, C. (1999). Just checking it out: exploring the significance of informal gender divisions amongst American supermarket employees. Gender, Work & Organization 6(3): 129–33. doi: 10.1111/1468-0432.00076

Tullberg, M., Walter, L., & Blomquist, M. (2014). Flexibel handel. En studie av bemanningsstrategier i svensk detaljhandel. [Flexible trading. A study of staffing strategies in Swedish retailing]. GRI-Rapport 3, Gotheburg Research Center.

Vänje, A. (2015). Sick leave—a signal of unequal work organizations? Gender perspectives on work environment and work organizations in the health care sector: a knowledge review. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 5(4): 85–104. doi: 10.19154/njwls.v5i4.4845

Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research. Design and methods (2nd ed.), SAGE Publications.

Zeytinoglu, I., Lillevik, W., Seaton, B., & Moruz, J. (2004). Part-time and casual work in retail trade: stress and other factors affecting the workplace. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 59(3): 516–44. doi: 10.7202/010923ar




How to Cite

Olofsdotter, G., Bolin, M., & Mathiassen, S. E. (2023). Inequality Regimes in Grocery Stores: Intersections of Gender, Hierarchies, and Working Conditions. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 13(3).