General Question

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What is the reason for the American discomfort with salary disclosure?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (39017points) June 16th, 2009

I always wondered this because it’s not the same in Russia and maybe it’s not really a trend here, but people are so touchy about the subject of how much they make, what they want to make, and what the person next to them makes…what’s the reason for this? capitalistic tendencies? privacy notions/individualistic notions? everyone for themselves mentality? I find that people often want to know what I’m asking in my job search and are so uncomfortable asking but I have no issues disclosing that information…in Russia, as I mentioned, at least where I lived, everyone knew how much everyone else was making, it was sort of public knowledge in terms of what professions garner what pay…do you have any insight into this

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52 Answers

eponymoushipster's avatar

Yes, it is very different in Russia. Perhaps this is a holdover from when not disclosing meant you may be (and probably were) hiding some under the table take.

In America, in general, people are more private about income and any money related issues, period.

в бывшем союзе, все по блату, не так ли?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Plenty of ‘under the table’ occurs here as well, Russian or not
Why do you think people are more private?
(as to your other question, I suppose, was not very involved in being that way)

DarkScribe's avatar

I haven’t seen a lot of that, it doesn’t appear to much different to here on the UK etc., some are reticent, some brag. When I worked in New York I kept finding that within minutes of meeting someone I knew their annual income.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@DarkScribe – New York is not exactly the most representative of American cities, especially Manhattan. My Queens relatives (most of whom work in the civil sector) wouldn’t dare discuss how much they make.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – I believe not talking about salary is an aspect of the general American reticence to acknowledge class differences.

kenmc's avatar

I’d say because Americans are easily embarrassed.

If they make a small amount of money, they’re embarrassed because they think people will judge them. If they make large sums of money, they don’t want to belittle people (usually).

eponymoushipster's avatar

@DarkScribe @Simone_De_Beauvoir No, the difference is that in the FSU it’s not so much bragging as simply openess. Yes, in the West, it’s a pride issue – and no doubt with some in Russia as well – “new” russians, for example.

Why are Westerners, let’s say, more reticent? It could a more religious-oriented culture, or at the very least, a culture that had more religious roots. This also serves to explain why Americans are more hung up on nudity, even in a non-sexual way. Goes back to Puritanical roots.

To look at it from this light, many feel that discussing money is not a sin, but improper outside of a certain set of circumstances.

Also, too, some are hesitant because they are concerned with others’ feelings, whereas some Eastern Europeans are more straightforward in such matters (as @aprilsimnel expressed).

asmonet's avatar

I’d say it has to do with our countries history of the American dream (if you’re not achieving it, you’re not worth anything – that’s the bastardization of the idea anyway), a host of privacy concerns due to the last 30 years of government and a very human and universal trait called jealousy.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

and are all of you this private, if you don’t mind me asking?

asmonet's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir: Is any generality true of everyone?

I don’t think it’s as much to do with personal beliefs, as it is to do with our idea of courtesy and polite conversation.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir i’ll tell you i don’t make much money at all. :)

mowens's avatar

We like to look rich. If someone knew we were not… then the vail is lifted.

Plus our parents told us it was private… somewhere along the line we believed them.

RedPowerLady's avatar


and are all of you this private, if you don’t mind me asking?

I let people know how much I make when they ask. Sometimes when they don’t. But then again i’m from a sub-culture in America that doesn’t have the same values as the dominant culture. Many of us have “money issues” and it shows solidarity when we are open about discussing them. Although some people from the majority culture do get quite uncomfortable with it.

Having said that I never ask someone how much they make because I understand that it is quite inappropriate to do so. I don’t mind if someone asks me but I don’t go asking other people.

In Russia does it serve a purpose that everyone knows what everyone else makes?

Facade's avatar

Maybe they don’t want to be accused of bragging.

casheroo's avatar

At my mother’s company, you can be fired for talking about your salary.

I personally don’t see what the big deal is. I imagine socially it’s more along the lines of what @asmonet said. But, for some reason, companies have strict rules on it.

My mother in law never mentions money, but if I ask my parents they tell me how much they make. People are just weird about money, especially Americans.

SeventhSense's avatar

Extreme competitiveness, shame and jealousy make up the American psyche. If you’re too poor, then your a failure, if you’re too rich, you’re a snob. Whatever you are, you should be embarassed about it because that shows you’re a good person. I hope you weren’t under the impression that Americans are well adjusted. We are an anxiety ridden, neurotic, compassionate, puritanical, and hypocritical nation. But we’re good people. :)

SeventhSense's avatar

Hollywood is a perfect example. You can be worth 100 million but if you’re not making films, then you’re nothing. David Carradine just passed away from an apparent suicide and it was said he suffered for years with depression before(and after)getting the role in
Kill Bill. In a strange way it keeps us on the top of the heap. It’s very hard to stay at the top of the heap. Maybe we’d be happier if we didn’t have to maintain our “position” in the world

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I agree with aprilsimnel. America is very much run on a class system, but that fact is something a lot of Americans do not like to admit. Their reluctance to mention their salary is their reluctance to acknowledge the system. A lot of Americans say, “Money doesn’t matter that much”, but if our society truly believed that, no one would have a problem talking about it – regardless of how much or how little someone makes.

SeventhSense's avatar

True. Transparency would be best but I can’t say it doesn’t make me feel self conscious. There needs to be a real shift in many areas for this to be put in place.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t know what the reasons are
maybe it makes everyone feel miserable together?

tinyfaery's avatar

People don’t talk about things here we just buy things that show people how much money we make. This is nation of consumers; our possessions speak for us.

SeventhSense's avatar

Spending money is what we are taught is the most American thing to do- because then we have to make more money. Making more money increases the GDP.

kevbo's avatar

I think it is, in part, because we have this ideal of a meritocracy where people are paid according to their worth. So perhaps it interferes with the normal progress of relationships, because it introduces a pecking order. Also, in a workplace people get pissed if their coworker is making $.15 more an hour than they are, especially if that coworker is perceived as doing less work or less effective work. So, it circumvents a lot of those kinds of discussions.

I don’t see it as much as it is preached as a maxim, but I have seen squabbles at work when someone is suddenly given a better job title than their peer coworker. I would imagine, though, as status conscious as people are in the NYC area (where, for example, exclusivity is artificially created by disallowing certain kinds of people into exclusive clubs) that it would be more prevalent.

wundayatta's avatar

I was brought up to believe that what I make and how much I have is nobody’s business by my own. In any case, even if people do share the information, unless you see their tax returns or pay stubs, it’s hard to know if they’re telling the truth.

I’ve mostly been embarrassed about what I make, since I always made less than my girlfriends. I assumed, therefore, that I was making less than everyone else among my peers. Partly, I told myself, it was because I was working doing “do-good” work, and that doesn’t pay well. But I was (and am) ashamed.

My father told me that if I made a certain amount, he’d think I was doing ok. I didn’t make that amount until twenty-five years later. If we adjusted for inflation, I’d still be making less than that.

Anyway, it’s not the size of your wallet that counts, right?

augustlan's avatar

I was brought up to believe that talking about money was gauche… just kind of tacky, you know? That said, my female friends and I have always been very open about money with each other, while our husbands would have had a freakin’ heart attack if they’d known we were discussing it with one another. In my experience, it’s a more masculine trait. Maybe it has something to do with competitiveness?

dalepetrie's avatar

I think it’s a combination of the fact that in America, we worship Capitalism…the “American Dream” is that you can get rich if you work hard, but the American Dream is essentially a lie, because even though you “can” become stinking rich if you work hard, working hard isn’t a guarantee you’ll get rich…you can toil day and night your whole life and die in debt. So no one ever feels like they’re living up to the American Dream and they’re embarrassed of that. They don’t want to say what they make and don’t want to know what their neighbors make (unless their neighbors make less than they do). It’s kind of the same reason men brag about their penises but rarely whip them out with the rulers.

And since we are built on a history of backstabbing, pretty much everything is intellectual ammunition to an American…someone knows how much you make, they have “dirt” on you, and they can spread it around in whatever way they want to whomever they want, and they can manage others’ perceptions of you. And in a culture where climbing the ladder is the expectation, there is no reality, only perception.

In other words, money is power, knowledge is power, knowledge of someone’s money makes it possible for you to essentially own them in our culture. At least, that’s the perception, even it if isn’t true.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

How much money you make is personal and not made a spectacle because others may not have as much and it’s insensitive to bring attention to their lack. Same goes for the opposite situation, it’s gauche to brag and then find out someone make loads more than you and feel uncomfortable to let you know that. It’s the American way to pretend to want to be socially equal and fair so taking money out of the picture when engaging others makes that seem more possible.

Trustinglife's avatar

My parents taught me not to ask. I mostly don’t ask now for concern of making the other person feel uncomfortable.

Personally, I have no problem talking about money with my friends. In my men’s group, we’re taking a leap and sharing all kinds of financial information with each other as a way of transforming some of our collective money stuff. We’re talking about net worth, income, debt, etc. It feels good to me. I really value intimacy and transparency.

In more social situations, I might have some embarrassment and discomfort were it to come up – but it never does. Why? I’m probably nervous about how I’d be perceived, whether the asker would consider my income high or low. Just seems easier to not have that conversation – unless it’s in a more intimate situation with a friend. What’s different there is that I trust them, I trust their intention, and I trust that knowing how much money I’m making wouldn’t affect their opinion of me.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@dalepetrie it’s all very grim, isn’t it?

wundayatta's avatar

@Trustinglife I wonder if people could be as open on fluther as in your men’s group. Anyway, what do you find out about your fellow group members when they share this information? Is any of it surprising? Does it change your opinion of them?

EmpressPixie's avatar

Simply put, our employers do not want us talking about it. And often do not allow us to—if we would or not. That way they can offer one salary to me and another to my coworker and I’ll never know he’s making more than me. People who don’t talk about their salaries are complicit in the system.

I really think that not being allowed to talk about it is a lot of why we don’t. Because on some level we’ve internalized culturally that it is wrong to do so. This only hurts us though.

Darwin's avatar

An important thing to some Americans is not to let folks know you have more money than you “need” for day to day expenses, so they won’t try to borrow or take it from you. I have seen many freinds and even some families destroyed over something like this.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Darwin that’s a shame, ain’t it

dalepetrie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – unfortunately yes (and believe it or not, I’m an optimist, I just dislike most people). @EmpressPixie – that reminds me, my wife got in SO much trouble with a former employer when she innocently shared what her meager hourly rate was as a receptionist at a small animal hospital. The owner was forced to give everyone a raise, and he balled her out…her response that she didn’t know he was paying everyone else so little didn’t exactly make him happy.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir maybe it makes everyone feel miserable together?

Exactly along the lines of what I was thinking. :)

Trustinglife's avatar

@daloon Hey Daloon! My experience in my men’s group has been great. I’m by far the youngest member of the group (I’m 28), and haven’t made a ton of money in my lifetime yet. Hearing the net worth, etc., of these men in their 40’s/50’s/60’s was eye-opening, but especially some of the feelings – namely, embarrassment and shame – around those numbers. It was a reminder for me of how relative one’s money situation is. I’ve heard plenty about dirt-poor people being really happy, and millionaires feeling an acute sense of lack and thinking, “I don’t have enough yet.” My experience in group so far has been a vivid demonstration of that.

So for me, the result has been I’ve been practicing being happy more often, regardless of my circumstances (and my debt). It’s working.

mammal's avatar

@SeventhSense `But we’re good people. :)’ no you, most definitely are not :(

SeventhSense's avatar

These false ideals will only cause more suffering for you.
Condemnation, superiority/inferiority are simply illusions. But I’m in good company.

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

“He who is without sin may cast the first stone”

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SeventhSense you’re throwing jesus sayings at Mammal…now THAT’s interesting

SeventhSense's avatar

Well a warm sanctimonious bath sometimes needs a cold shower.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SeventhSense yeah but I don’t think it’s intersting for the same reasons you do – Mammal defends spirituality, generally

SeventhSense's avatar

So you are another voice for prejudice? And you are assuming I am not spiritual because I oppose sanctimonious, religious, holier than thou minded people? And who actually decided that spirituality needed defending, whatever that means? Perhaps we should defend the sea from drying out by the sun?

Jesus ate with tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes and the only ones that he spoke out against harshly were the holier than thou religious minded leaders of the day. These he called “whitewashed tombs”, dens of vipers who were more concerned with the opinions of man than truth.

The idea that there is the Holy and the Profane is another illusion made up by men who made God in their own image.

mammal's avatar

@SeventhSense no… your delusions and self satisfaction will cause you the suffering… didn’t your Jesus quote just emphasise my point? as my dear old Scottish Granny used to say `Self praise is no recommendation’

mammal's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir i defend the principle of all recognisable religions, even if i despise the same facets as you.

SeventhSense's avatar

But I just realized your attempt to squirm out of your accusation.
How did you get from judging my “goodness” to accusing me of self praise?

Can you not stand behind your statement?-
`But we’re good people. :)’ no you, most definitely are not :(

So you really feel that you somehow have more worth or goodness than others?
Is this is a spiritual thing?

SeventhSense's avatar

Where’s that Hegallian dialectic? You know thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Or does that only apply to the two personalities that exist within your avatar having an internal conversation?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SeventhSense It’s called Hegelian dialectic and I’m sure @mammal doesn’t care too much to identify himself along with it, either, though a lot of what he and I discuss (we are friends from before) sort of have to do with this system – I do not support organized religion, nor do I support holier than thou people and @mammal isn’t one of them

SeventhSense's avatar

No she certainly does(by her own admission support Hegelian dialectic) which she was more than happy to point out to us peons when she was posing as a hairy man not unlike my avatar.
I’m still curious about her real sex because of all this duplicity. As well as these spiritual principles. All I’ve seen so far have been judgement, division, ego posturing, sexism and cowardice in actually engaging someone in meaningful dialogue.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SeventhSense don’t worry about his sex, I don’t see how it’s relevant, but I can tell you that he is a man in every sence of the word that our society defines it as…and sure there’s some ego here and there but not sexism nor cowardice

SeventhSense's avatar

Whatever.. I have no axe to grind with anyone. I just find it cowardly for someone to drop judgements against people like a terrorist dispensing shame. That’s not a man in my book. Sure I’m a dick at times but at least I own it.

mowens's avatar

I can remember a specific instance growing up where I was told it was inpolite. My friends dad had written a book, and I had asked him how much money he made off of it. He corrected me and told me it was inpolite to ask that question.

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