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The Salary Taboo: Privacy Norms and the Diffusion of Information

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  • Zoë B. Cullen
  • Ricardo Perez-Truglia

Abstract

The limited diffusion of salary information has implications for labor markets, such as wage discrimination policies and collective bargaining. Access to salary information is believed to be limited and unequal, but there is little direct evidence on the sources of these information frictions. Social scientists have long conjectured that privacy norms around salary (i.e., the “salary taboo”) play an important role. We provide unique evidence of this phenomenon based on a field experiment with 755 employees at a multibillion-dollar corporation. We provide revealed-preference evidence that many employees are unwilling to reveal their salaries to coworkers and reluctant to ask coworkers about their salaries. These frictions are still present, but smaller in magnitude, when sharing information that is less sensitive (seniority information). We discuss implications for pay transparency policies and the gender wage gap.

Suggested Citation

  • Zoë B. Cullen & Ricardo Perez-Truglia, 2018. "The Salary Taboo: Privacy Norms and the Diffusion of Information," NBER Working Papers 25145, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:25145
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    Cited by:

    1. Gamage, Danula K. & Kavetsos, Georgios & Mallick, Sushanta & Sevilla, Almudena, 2020. "Pay Transparency Initiative and Gender Pay Gap: Evidence from Research-Intensive Universities in the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 13635, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Duchini, Emma & Simion, Stefania & Turrell, Arthur, 2020. "Pay Transparency and Cracks in the Glass Ceiling," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1311, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    3. Ricardo Perez-Truglia, 2020. "The Effects of Income Transparency on Well-Being: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 110(4), pages 1019-1054, April.
    4. Michael Baker & Yosh Halberstam & Kory Kroft & Alexandre Mas & Derek Messacar, 2019. "Pay Transparency and the Gender Gap," NBER Working Papers 25834, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Косулиев, Александър, 2019. "Заплатата (Не) Е Посочена. Анализ На Обяви За Работа От Русе [When employers post their wage? Analysis of job adverts from Ruse, Bulgaria]," MPRA Paper 104585, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Jason J Sandvik & Richard E Saouma & Nathan T Seegert & Christopher T Stanton, 2020. "Workplace Knowledge Flows," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 135(3), pages 1635-1680.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing
    • M5 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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