Howard Kingsnorth—Getty Images
By Kara Brandeisky
February 5, 2016

Almost three in four Americans believe CEOs are overpaid. Yet at the same time, many vastly underestimate just how much CEOs make, according to a new survey from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

When Americans were asked to guess how much the average CEO in the largest 500 U.S. companies earns every year, the median guess was $1 million. (The average guess, by contrast, was about $9.275 million, a figure inflated by people who gave very high estimates.)

The real answer? The median reported compensation for CEOs of the largest 500 companies in the U.S. is $10.3 million. The average is $12.2 million.

There was a strong correlation between how much a respondent earned personally and their guesses for CEO compensation. The higher the respondents earnings, the more they thought the average CEO earned. People who made less than $20,000 a year typically thought that CEOs pull in just $500,000 a year (their median guess). People who made between $50,000 and $60,000 thought CEOs made $1 million. And people who made more than $150,000 a year thought CEOs made $5 million—closer to the truth, but still only about halfway there.

Altogether, 74% of respondents said CEOs are not “paid the correct amount relative to the average worker.” Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to feel this way, but even 61% of Republicans agreed with the sentiment.

Seven in 10 respondents also agreed that “CEO compensation at the largest companies in the U.S. is a problem,” including 78% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.

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