Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2015

Paying Up for Fair Pay: Consumers Prefer Firms with Lower CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios

by Bhavya Mohan, Michael I. Norton and Rohit Deshpandé


Prior research examining consumer expectations of equity and price fairness has not addressed wage fairness, as measured by a firm's pay ratio. Pending legislation will require American public companies to disclose the pay ratio of CEO wage to the average employee's wage. Our six studies show that pay ratio disclosure affects purchase intention of consumers via perceptions of wage fairness. The disclosure of a retailer's high pay ratio (e.g., 1000 to 1) reduces purchase intention relative to firms with lower ratios (e.g., 5 to 1 or 60 to 1, Studies 1A, 1B, and 1C). Lower pay ratios improve consumer perceptions across a range of products at different price points (Study 2A and 2B), increase consumer ratings of both firm warmth and firm competence (Study 3), and enhance perceptions of Democrats and Independents without alienating Republican consumers (Study 4). A firm with a high ratio must offer a 50% price discount to garner as favorable consumer impressions as a firm that charges full price but features a lower ratio (Study 5).

Keywords: pay ratio; wage fairness; purchase intention; customers; financial disclosure; Wages; Fairness; Corporate Disclosure; Consumer Behavior;


Mohan, Bhavya, Michael I. Norton, and Rohit Deshpandé. "Paying Up for Fair Pay: Consumers Prefer Firms with Lower CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-091, May 2015.