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By Ethan Wolff-Mann
August 4, 2016
Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is one of the highest paid CEOs in the world.
Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is one of the highest paid CEOs in the world.
Matthew Lloyd—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Outrage over excessive executive comp seems like a given these days. It’s spurred New York Times editorials, caused countless protests over inequality, and helped Bernie Sanders’ cause.

An interesting survey from research firm PayScale, however, finds that outrage may be a bit overstated. Among more than 22,000 employees surveyed, only 45% actually knew what their CEO was paid, and among that cohort, 21% thought the pay was too high.

Not surprisingly, when broken down by salary tier, lower-earners were more disgruntled than higher earners. Across age demographics, sentiment was the same.

But while almost four out of five employees who knew what their CEO made were okay with that compensation, it doesn’t necessarily impugn the conventional wisdom that there is heavy outrage. Looking at the PayScale data reveals that the group that knew — and approved — of the high CEO pay wasn’t exactly representative of the greater workforce. That is because an imbalance exists between awareness of what the big boss makes and opinions about it.

In other words, the employees who know and approve of high CEO pay are more likely to be higher-ups: Only 32% of people making $200,000 or more didn’t know what their CEO makes, vs. 64% of people who make less than $25,000. And you can bet that, in the workforce at large, more people make less than $25,000 than over $200,000. (The number of survey respondents in each salary grouping was undisclosed.)

Even if the data doesn’t throw out the conventional wisdom that everyone thinks CEOs are overpaid, it underscores who thinks what. People who are higher up in the pecking order are definitely more satisfied with the way things are.

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