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Title: Inequality at Work: The Effect of Peer Salaries on Job Satisfaction
Authors: Card, David
Mas, Alex
Moretti, Enrico
Saez, Emmanual
Issue Date: 1-Sep-2010
Series/Report no.: Working Papers (Princeton University. Industrial Relations Section) ; 559
Abstract: Economists have long speculated that individuals care about both their absolute income and their income relative to others. We use a simple theoretical framework and a randomized manipulation of access to information on peers’ wages to provide new evidence on the effects of relative pay on individual utility. A randomly chosen subset of employees of the University of California was informed about a new website listing the pay of all University employees. All employees were then surveyed about their job satisfaction and job search intentions. Our information treatment doubles the fraction of employees using the website, with the vast majority of new users accessing data on the pay of colleagues in their own department. We find an asymmetric response to the information treatment: workers with salaries below the median for their pay unit and occupation report lower pay and job satisfaction, while those earning above the median report no higher satisfaction. Likewise, below-median earners report a significant increase in the likelihood of looking for a new job, while above-median earners are unaffected. Our findings indicate that utility depends directly on relative pay comparisons, and that this relationship is non-linear.
Although economists acknowledge that various indicators of educational attainment (e.g., highest grade completed, credentials earned) might serve as signals of a worker’s productivity, the practical importance of education-based signaling is not clear. In this paper we estimate the signaling value of a high school diploma, the most commonly held credential in the U.S. To do so, we compare the earnings of workers that barely passed and barely failed high school exit exams, standardized tests that, in some states, students must pass to earn a high school diploma. Since these groups should, on average, look the same to firms (the only difference being that "barely passers" have a diploma while "barely failers" do not), this earnings comparison should identify the signaling value of the diploma. Using linked administrative data on earnings and education from two states that use high school exit exams (Florida and Texas), we estimate that a diploma has little effect on earnings. For both states, we can reject that individuals with a diploma earn eight percent more than otherwise-identical individuals without one; combining the state-specific estimates, we can reject signaling values larger than five or six percent. While these confidence intervals include economically important signaling values, they exclude both the raw earnings difference between workers with and without a diploma and the regression-adjusted estimates reported in the previous literature.
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