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How Much Does Your Boss Make? The Effects of Salary Comparisons

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Listed:
  • Zoë Cullen
  • Ricardo Perez-Truglia

Abstract

The vast majority of the pay inequality in organizations comes from differences in pay between employees and their bosses. But are employees aware of these pay disparities? Are employees demotivated by this inequality? To address these questions, we conducted a natural field experiment with a sample of 2,060 employees from a multibillion-dollar corporation in Southeast Asia. We make use of the firm’s administrative records alongside survey data and information-provision experiments. First, we document large misperceptions among employees about the salaries of their managers and smaller but still significant misperceptions of the salaries of their peers. Second, we show that these perceptions have a significant causal effect on the employees’ own behavior. When they find out that their managers earn more than they thought, employees work harder on average. In contrast, employees do not work as hard when they find out that their peers earn more. We provide suggestive evidence of the underlying causal mechanisms, such as career concerns and social preferences. We conclude by discussing the implications of pay inequality and pay transparency.

Suggested Citation

  • Zoë Cullen & Ricardo Perez-Truglia, 2018. "How Much Does Your Boss Make? The Effects of Salary Comparisons," NBER Working Papers 24841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24841
    Note: LS PE POL
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    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J38 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Public Policy
    • M12 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Personnel Management; Executives; Executive Compensation
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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