If you were ever taught that it’s rude to discuss money, especially to compare salaries, you’re not alone. A new survey from MagnifyMoney found that the majority of Americans would rather not share their salary with anyone else.
Our survey of over 1,000 Americans delved into why many hold their salaries close to the vest, and to whom they do choose to share that information — if at all. We also uncovered how often people lie about their salaries.
- Key findings
- Americans believe salaries should be kept private
- Personal finances remain a taboo topic
- Our survey found that 44% of Americans have lied about how much money they make. Men (58%) were twice as likely to lie about their salaries than women (29%).
- The majority of those who lied inflated their salary to friends or in romantic relationships. Still, 16% lied and said they made less than they actually do.
- When asked whether they’d rather share their weight or their salary, 45% of Americans said they’d rather divulge their weight.
- There were a few exceptions: Gen X and those who make $50,000 or more per year would prefer talking about their salary than their weight.
- Overall, 4 in 10 consumers think it’s OK to have salary discussions with co-workers.
- Baby boomers, however, overwhelmingly disagreed, with only 8% saying it’s fine to discuss pay with co-workers. Additionally, only 21% of women agreed with sharing that information.
- To the contrary, those who earned higher incomes were more likely than those who earned less to say that it is acceptable to discuss salary with co-workers, as were Republicans.
- Notably, 58% of consumers think that companies can legally prevent employees from sharing their salary information with co-workers, which is not true. Per the National Labor Relations Act, private employees have the right to share their salary information. Federal employees also can share this information without the fear of employer retaliation thanks to an executive order from former President Obama in 2014.
- Despite these allowances, Americans tend to keep their salary information a secret from their co-workers. Only 7% said their co-workers know their salary. Further, when asked if there was anyone with whom they would not be willing to share their salary, the most popular answer given was co-workers (39%).
- Overall, 83% of working Americans have shared their salary with at least one other person.
- Interestingly, the survey found that the more money you make, the more likely you’ve told someone about it. In fact, only about 4% of those who make $100,000 or more haven’t told anyone else their salary.
Americans believe salaries should be kept private
Our survey found that there are plenty of reasons why someone might not want to share their salary. But overwhelmingly, respondents indicated that they simply prefer to keep their finances private. The next most popular reasons are that it has never come up in conversation (30%) and that it feels awkward to bring it up (22%).
When respondents did bring up their salary, it was largely because the other person asked about it (24%), with only 5% saying it had come up organically. Other reasons for discussing salary were to discuss a job offer with a loved one (18%) and to find out if they were or someone else was being paid fairly (15%).
Another popular reason for sharing salary information stemmed from a shared financial responsibility that made it necessary for the other person to know. In fact, respondents said the person most likely to know their salary (besides their employer and HR) was their spouse or live-in partner (46%).
Respondent’s next-most popular confidant were their parents (31%), followed by an 18% of “no one.” Respondents were more likely to keep their salary a secret than tell their friends, siblings, children or romantic relationship (other than a spouse or live-in partner). Only 7% said their co-workers know their salary.
However, respondents have also lied about their salary to those close to them, including to their friends (26%), romantic relationships (23%) and family members (22%). Men were much likelier to lie about their salary to their romantic partners than women. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to lie about their salaries in every other situation, except when speaking with friends, in which case men and women were equally likely to lie.
Overall, people lied mostly because they felt guilty about how much money they make (32%). Others lied to impress the person (21%), to avoid feeling inferior to others who made more money (20%) and for feeling uncomfortable sharing their actual salary (17%).
Personal finances likely to remain a taboo topic
The majority of respondents who haven’t previously shared their salary don’t plan to start doing so now. In fact, just 7% said they would definitely consider disclosing their salary, while 42% said they would maybe consider sharing it.
Americans are even shy about sharing their salary information anonymously. Of respondents, 47% said they have never shared their salary anonymously on a recruiting website like Glassdoor, and are unwilling to do so. Another 28% haven’t shared their salary on such websites but would be willing to do so, while only 24% have already shared that information. Anonymous Glassdoor-like websites could help break the stigma around sharing salary information and provide some transparency around the topic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gen X (74%) and millennials (66%) are more willing to share their salaries on Glassdoor than baby boomers (21%). Men also are more likely to give out this information than women. Just 10% of women have shared their salary on an anonymous website like Glassdoor compared with 40% of men.
MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,028 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Sept. 11-14, 2020.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:
- Gen Z are ages 18-23
- Millennials are ages 24-39
- Gen X are ages 40-54
- Baby boomers are ages 55-74
While Gen Z and the silent generation were also surveyed, due to low sample size among both groups, they were excluded from generational comparisons. However, their responses were still factored into the overall percentage totals among all respondents.