Rethinking Measurement of Pay Disparity and Its Relation to Firm Performance

by Ethan Rouen

Overview — Among this paper’s contributions is evidence that different types of pay disparity matter in different ways to firm employees, and that disparity created by pay that is unrelated to the economics of the firm negatively impacts employee satisfaction, with consequences for firm performance. The paper also gives investors and proxy advisors a roadmap to interpret pay ratios and pay disparity. This roadmap may help regulators and firms to, respectively, mandate and prepare more informative disclosures.

Author Abstract

I develop measures of firm-level pay disparity and examine their relation to firm accounting performance. Using comprehensive compensation data for a large sample of firms, I find no statistically significant relation between the ratio of CEO-to-mean employee compensation and performance. I next create empirical models that allow me to separate the components of CEO and employee compensation explained by economic factors from those that are not and use these models to estimate explained and unexplained pay disparity. After validating my estimate of unexplained pay disparity as a proxy for pay fairness, I find robust evidence of a negative (positive) relation between unexplained (explained) pay disparity and future firm performance. Additional tests show that the negative relation between unexplained disparity and firm performance is driven by firms where both the CEO is overpaid and employees are underpaid and is more pronounced for firms with weak corporate governance and high employee turnover.

Paper Information