High Earners' Attitudes to Pay

This qualitative study investigated the views of some in the top 1% of UK earners, through an online focus group and five in-depth interviews which took place in June 2011.

High Earners' Attitudes to Pay

High earners feel that they are closer to the 'squeezed middle' than the 'super rich', says new research from Ipsos MORI for the High Pay Commission.

This qualitative study investigated the views of some in the top 1% of UK earners, through an online focus group and five in-depth interviews which took place in June 2011.

In the light of the economic downturn and cuts to public services, and in a climate where top executives’ pay continues to increase both proportionally and in real terms, the High Pay Commission needed to investigate what high earners themselves thought about high pay. The discussions covered: attitudes to pay; where the participants perceived themselves to be in relation to the UK distribution of earnings; how far they felt they deserved their high pay; and perceptions of social consequences of inequality. For most participants, there was little correlation between hard work, or aptitude, and the absolute amount a person earns. There was an acknowledgement that individual performance is usually hard to quantify in terms of an individual's contribution to corporate success. It was felt to be a myth that pay always acccurately reflects an individual's performance. Broadly, satisfaction with pay was wrapped up in the idea of entitlement, and the amount that participants’ friends in similar companies earn is the arbiter of what they themselves feel entitled to. While they acknowledged they were high earning, they did not feel ‘rich’, considering that their costs of living were too high for them to be more than ‘comfortably off’.

Sarah Castell, Head of Qualitative Methods at Ipsos MORI, who directed the study, said

“This qualitative study gives a great snapshot of the ideas and language used by high earners when they are considering their pay. The study will be useful for anyone communicating with this group in future."

Watch Sarah Castell in Westminster provide a snapshot of key findings of the research behind the report

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