Monday, March 6, 2017

Secret Salaries

I am asking a sincere question (not hypothetical).  Why are salaries such secret information?

Now there well may be a good reason for this, I am just a bit unsure about it.  I recall speaking to a group of students in an English as a Second Language Class.  I asked them if they had any questions and they siad they were told NOT to ever ask an American about religion, salaries, or body weight.

I said, hey, you're NOT from around here, so you can get away asking anything you want.  They respondent may NOT answer your question, but they won't be offended that you asked.

On the other hand, if you are a US native, you know not to ask such things.

But again I am unsure as to why this is.  On a few occasions I have felt it was important to tell people, usually Ph.D. or potential Ph.D. students about my salary.  they seemed thrilled that I would share such "persona" information.  Technically, as a state employee for most of my life, my salary was a matter of public record.  Each year the salaries were published and resided in a big book in the Gorgas Library.  Early in my career, I could NOT resist temptation and went over to look at salaries.

A funny thing happened.  For those faculty making MORE than me, I felt I was wronged.   For those making LESS than me, I felt it was entirely fair.  Funny that.

Perhaps this answers my own question.  Perhaps all of us do this all the time, which led some smart person to suggest we simply NOT mention salaries-- and everyone is happier.

This seems a bit sad, that we are so competitive, but it is likely true.  We are indeed fallen.

Why do think talking about salary is off limits?  Should it be?


  1. My daddy taught me this Don't tell what you make, don't tell who you voted for because, and I quote, "It's nobody's d**n business. Other than that, I think companies want to keep it secret because they think people will demand raises when they find out what their peer is making, and it's more than their own salary.

  2. I feel sure there is some good science around this question...In 1975 when I was 40th on the list of 40 in salary I had no problem talking about it...37 years and 6 internal promotions later I had managed to climb into the top 5, and I didn't want to talk so freely about it?? You asked a good question...