Paying Up for Fair Pay: Consumers Prefer Firms with Lower CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios

by Bhavya Mohan, Michael I. Norton & Rohit Deshpandé

Executive Summary — The pay ratio of CEOs to average workers has long been a question of interest to both employees and investors. It also matters to consumers, as shown by new research conducted by the authors of this paper. A firm with a high (1000 to 1) ratio needs to offer a 50 percent discount in order to garner as favorable consumer impressions as a firm with a low (5 to 1) pay ratio. Even if pay ratio disclosure does not become legally mandated, these results suggest that firms with low pay ratios relative to competitors may wish to begin to disclose this information voluntarily.

Author Abstract

Prior research examining consumer expectations of equity and price fairness has not addressed wage fairness, as measured by a firm's pay ratio. Pending legislation will require American public companies to disclose the pay ratio of CEO wage to the average employee's wage. Our six studies show that pay ratio disclosure affects purchase intention of consumers via perceptions of wage fairness. The disclosure of a retailer's high pay ratio (e.g., 1000 to 1) reduces purchase intention relative to firms with lower ratios (e.g., 5 to 1 or 60 to 1, Studies 1A, 1B, and 1C). Lower pay ratios improve consumer perceptions across a range of products at different price points (Studies 2A and 2B), increase consumer ratings of both firm warmth and firm competence (Study 3), and enhance perceptions of Democrats and Independents without alienating Republican consumers (Study 4). A firm with a high ratio must offer a 50% price discount to garner consumer impressions as favorable as a firm that charges full price but features a lower ratio (Study 5).

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