Ray Fisman at Slate describes a new paper by David Card, Alexandre Mas, Enrico Moretti and Emanual Saez . These researchers use publicly available salary data for the University of California to study whether workers are disgruntled when they learn they are earning less than their colleagues. The Sacramento Bee has a website which allows anyone to search for salaries by name or institution. The researchers told some employees about the website so they could search for information about their colleagues’ salaries. They then asked all employees about their job satisfaction. Comparing the groups gives an estimate of the impact of knowing salaries on job satisfaction. Fisman reports:
On average, receiving SacBee information via e-mail had little effect on job satisfaction or job-search plans. But when the researchers divided the sample in half—those above the median pay level for comparable individuals in their department and those below—they found low earners were significantly more likely to report low job and wage satisfaction if they received the SacBee e-mail. The SacBee e-mail had an even greater impact on the likelihood of low wage earners responding that they would be looking for a job in the coming year. (One respondent even sent a note to the researchers letting them know that he handed in his resignation shortly after checking his colleagues’ salaries on the SacBee Web site.) Surprisingly, high earners didn’t revel in their relative superiority—exposure to the SacBee Web site had no effect on their job satisfaction or likelihood of looking for a new job. (The researchers also found that both low and high earners expressed greater concern for income inequality in America after poking around the SacBee’s salary database.)
I’ve dressed up this post to look intellectual but really I know and you know that we want the juicy stuff:
1. Fisman’s link to the SacBee website is here.
2. What about other universities? Dan Hamermesh’s Gossip Files provide some more information….