Most Americans who have jobs, according to a report from the employer-review website Glassdoor, “wish they had a better understanding of what fair pay is for their position and skill set at their company.” That is somewhat strange, given that they could gain a better understanding by just asking around.
But it is also not strange, given the discomfort that so often accompanies discussing compensation with one’s co-workers. Recently, two economists tried to quantify that discomfort, in the hope that it might reveal something about how pay discrepancies develop, and because economists like to quantify things that haven’t been quantified before.
The two researchers—Harvard Business School’s Zoë Cullen and UCLA’s Ricardo Perez-Truglia—asked their subjects, some 750 employees of a large bank in Asia that generates billions of dollars in revenue, how much they’d be willing to pay to learn what some of their co-workers earn. The median response was $13, which indicates that many employees were not all that curious. But some cared a lot more: The average of the top half of responses was $369, and the average of roughly the highest quarter of responses was $640. Some said they’d pay more than $1,000.
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