Economic snapshot | Wages Incomes and Wealth

CEO-to-worker pay imbalance grows

Share this page:

UPDATE: See Nov. 9, 2011 Snapshot, which has updated data on the same issue



This week’s Snapshot previews data to be presented as part of the forthcoming The State of Working America 2006/07.

In 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker, the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there are data. In 2005, a CEO earned more in one workday (there are 260 in a year) than an average worker earned in 52 weeks.
The 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have been prosperous times for top U.S. executives, especially relative to other wage earners. This can be seen by examining the increased divergence between CEO pay and an average worker’s pay over time, as shown in Figure A. In 1965, U.S. CEOs in major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker; this ratio grew to 35 in 1978 and to 71 in 1989. The ratio  surged in the 1990s  and hit 300 at the end of the recovery in 2000. The fall in the stock market reduced CEO stock-related pay (e.g., options) causing CEO pay to moderate to 143 times that of an average worker in 2002. Since then, however, CEO pay has exploded and by 2005 the average CEO was paid $10,982,000 a year, or 262 times that of an average worker ($41,861).

Figure A: Ratio of CEO to average worker pay, 1965-2005

*Data note: CEO pay is realized direct compensation defined as the sum of salary, bonus, value of restricted stock at grant, and other long-term incentive award payments from a Mercer Survey conducted for the Wall Street Journal and prior Wall Street Journal-sponsored surveys. Worker pay is the hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory workers, assuming the economy-wide ratio of compensation to wages and a full-time, year-round job.

For more on CEO pay disparity, see next week’s Snapshot.

See related work on Wages Incomes and Wealth

See more work by Lawrence Mishel