Hidden effect

Asking prospective employees about salary history may help perpetuate wage discrimination

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REUTERS/Rick Wilking

A common procedure during job interviews is to ask about a candidate’s salary history. Behavioral economists have noted that disclosing this information commonly results in an anchoring effect: Once the applicant discloses a former salary, the salary offered by the employer is unlikely to be much more or less than the disclosed salary. As a result, argues Beth Cobert of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), asking potential employees about their former salaries is in fact helping to perpetuate gender inequality. A study from OPM last year found that starting salaries of female federal employees were 10 percent less than those of male federal employees. Given a pre-existing gender-motivated pay gap, asking about former salaries can lead to an extension of a previous instance of pay discrimination. Cobert recommends discontinuing the practice, noting that “reliance on existing salary to set pay could potentially adversely affect a candidate who is returning to the workplace after having taken extended time off from his or her career or for whom an existing rate of pay is not reflective of the candidate’s current qualifications or existing labor market conditions.” In short, it’s an unfair question, employers. So quit asking it.

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

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