Keeping Salaries Secret

Lilly Ledbetter only learned she was getting paid less than her male collegues because somebody told her.  The Institute of Women's Policy Research and the Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security finds that secrecy about wages is very commonplace and it may help perpetuate wage inequality. 

Nearly half of all workers nationally are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their colleagues.

Secrecy is more enforced in the private sector.  Close to one-quarter of private sector workers (23.1 percent) report that discussion of wages and salaries is formally prohibited and an additional 38.1 percent of private sector workers report that such discussion is discouraged by managers.   In the public sector there is much more transparency.

Besides the public sector, unions open things up a bit;  half as many union workers are forbidden or discouraged to discuss wages as compared to non-union workers--27% as compared to 53%. 

There is no clear association between wage secrecy and pay inequity, but some evidence suggests that transparency reduces the gender wage gap.  For instance, in the federal government where pay rates and grades are published and transparent, the wage gap is only 11% compared to 23% for most full time workers.  If Ledbetter's employers had published their wage scales, would Ledbetter have been discriminated against in the first place?