CEO Wage Gap
How do CEO salaries compare to what their workers earn?
We’ve all heard of the gender pay gap, but what about the CEO wage gap? The vast sums that CEOs are paid frequently make headlines around the world, often provoking an uproar at the disparity in pay between workers and their high-earning bosses.
Regardless of whether you celebrate the success of the lucky few who reach these top-earning positions, or take issue with the inequality that such salaries represent, high CEO pay is a fact of the working world we live in. However, not all companies, or CEOs, are made equal, with the amounts that they and their employees earn changing from company to company, and even from country to country.
Having such a disproportionate pay scale between the CEO and average employee can be counterproductive, demotivating workers who might feel disgruntled or not fairly compensated for the work they do. On the flip side, a smaller CEO pay gap signals that a company values all of its employees and is willing to pay them for their work without overly inflating executives’ pay.
To help put these differences into perspective, we’ve taken a deep dive into the salaries paid to the CEOs of 100 of the biggest companies in the USA, comparing them to the median earnings of their employees. We’ve also compared CEO and employee salaries across a range of countries, adding context to the CEO wage gap here in the USA.
So, next time you see one of these companies while scrolling through Lensa, you might want to check out just how big of a CEO wage gap they have.
Companies with the highest-paid CEOs
Here we’ve highlighted the companies whose CEOs earn the most. These earnings do not include bonuses, stock options, or other forms of compensation, and only refer to their base salaries.
CEO: Brian L. Roberts
CEO Salary: $3.44m
The CEO of Comcast, Brian L. Roberts is the highest-paid CEO in our study, earning a base salary of $3.44m. Comcast is a multinational telecommunications conglomerate based in Philadelphia, PA, and owns several hugely successful media companies such as Sky Group, NBC Universal, and DreamWorks Animation.
CEO: Tim Cook
CEO Salary: $3.00m
Tied for second place is Tim Cook, CEO of iPhone and computer technology firm Apple, who received a base salary of $3.00m. Apple remains one of the biggest names in consumer technology, with a large share of the cell phone, tablet, and personal computer markets.
2. 21st Century Fox
CEO: James Murdoch
CEO Salary: $3.00m
The CEO of the 21st Century Fox, James Murdoch, also received a salary of $3.00m, making him the joint second-highest-paid CEO in the study. Like the other members of the Murdoch family, James Murdoch has found a lucrative career in the media industry as one of its top executives.
CEO: Robert M. Bakish
CEO Salary: $3.00m
Another media company paying its CEO an eye-watering salary, Viacom also ties for second place, with its CEO Robert M. Bakish receiving base annual pay of $3.00m. Viacom is a huge player in the world of mass media, owning the likes of CBS, Paramount Pictures, and Nickelodeon.
Companies with the biggest CEO wage gap
In this section, we can see the companies that have the biggest gap between CEO and employee salaries. We’ve calculated this as a percentage difference, providing a proportionate view of the CEO pay gap.
CEO: James Quincy
CEO Salary Difference: 14,007%
The Coca-Cola Company recorded the highest disparity between CEO and employee pay, with its CEO being paid 14,007% more than the average employee earns. CEO James Quincy receives a base salary of $1.6m, while Coca-Cola employees receive just $11,342, meaning that Quincy receives the salary equivalent to just over 141 employees.
CEO: Kevin Johnson
CEO Salary Difference: 12,617%
Starbucks has the second biggest CEO pay gap of 12,617%, with CEO Kevin Johnson earning a base salary of $1.54 million whereas the average employee earns just $12,113. Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the world, with a 2019 revenue of $26.5 billion and coffeehouses in 80 countries across the globe, yet its workers receive some of the lowest wages in our study.
3. Chipotle Mexican Grill
CEO: Brian Niccol
CEO Salary Difference: 8,378%
In third place, with a CEO pay gap of 3,378%, is Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol earns a base salary of $1.2 million while his average employee takes home just $14,155, which is equivalent to about 1.18% of Mr. Niccol’s salary.
Companies with the smallest CEO wage gap
On the other end of the scale, we’ve also highlighted the companies with the smallest percent difference between the salaries of their CEO and regular employees.
CEO: Elon Musk
CEO Salary Difference: -59%
Tesla is a peculiar case in that CEO Elon Musk’s base salary is actually lower than the average employee’s, with a difference of -59%. This represents a novel approach to CEO pay, with Musk receiving stock options and rewards should company performance hit certain benchmarks.
In fact, in 2020 Elon Musk was the highest-paid CEO, receiving an astounding $6.66 billion worth of compensation, despite having a minimal base salary.
2. Berkshire Hathaway
CEO: Warren Buffett
CEO Salary Difference: 46%
Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO Warren Buffett has the second-lowest CEO pay gap, earning just 46% more than his average employee. Despite being the CEO of one of the world’s most successful investment firms, Warren Buffett leads a relatively simple and low-key life, which explains his unusually conservative salary.
CEO: David L. Calhoun
CEO Salary Difference: 101%
The third lowest CEO pay gap can be found at aviation firm Boeing, where CEO David Calhoun earns a base salary of just over double what the average employee receives, with a pay gap of 101%.
Countries with the highest-paid CEOs
Having looked at the CEO pay gap in some of the biggest companies in the USA, we now turn our attention to comparing figures at the country level. Here we can see which countries pay their CEOs the most, split into both an annual salary and hourly rate.
1. United States
CEO Salary: $429,663
CEO Hourly Rate: $207
The United States has the highest-paid CEOs in the world, taking home an average of $429,663, which translates to an hourly rate of $207.
2. United Kingdom
CEO Salary: $405,219
CEO Hourly Rate: $195
In second place is the United Kingdom, where CEOs earn an average salary of $405,219, or $195 an hour.
CEO Salary: $387,928
CEO Hourly Rate: $187
Germany takes third place, with average CEO salaries of $387,928, or $187 per hour.
Countries with the biggest CEO wage gap
As we have seen when looking at data for individual companies, having a higher CEO salary does not necessarily mean there will be a larger CEO wage gap; this depends on how well you pay the rest of your staff.
Applying this to entire nations, we have taken the average salary for each of a select group of countries and compared it to their average CEO salary. This has allowed us to rank them according to which has the biggest percentage difference between the two figures, indicating where CEOs are valued the most compared to the average worker.
CEO Salary Difference: 791%
Greece is the country with the biggest CEO pay gap, with CEOs receiving salaries that are 791% higher than the national average. Despite paying their CEOs some of the lowest salaries, the low national average makes it the country with the most disproportionate pay scale.
2. United Kingdom
CEO Salary Difference: 759%
The United Kingdom has the second-highest CEO wage gap of 759%. The very high CEO pay of $405,219 is not mirrored by equally high employee wages, with the average salary being a middling $47,147.
CEO Salary Difference: 703%
In third place is Italy, which recorded a CEO wage gap of 703%. Here, workers can expect to earn approximately 12.45% of what their CEO takes home, which is roughly equivalent to a CEO earning times the average employee’s wage.
Countries with the smallest CEO wage gap
These are the countries with the smallest percentage gap between CEO earnings and those of the average worker. This smaller gap suggests that these countries value their workers much more than those with a larger wage gap, and place less emphasis on elevating the individual at the top. That said, there are still some pretty substantial gaps between CEO and employee pay.
CEO Salary Difference: 144%
The country with the lowest CEO pay gap is Estonia, where top executives earn 144% more than the average salary. This is equivalent to CEOs earning 2.4 times the average salary.
CEO Salary Difference: 207%
Poland takes second place with a CEO pay gap of 207%, suggesting that Eastern Europe could be a hotspot of more egalitarian pay scales.
CEO Salary Difference: 214%
In third place is Iceland, where the CEO pay gap is 214.44%. Average salaries in the country are very high at $67,488, while CEO pay stands at a healthy $212,209. With high wages, all-round, Iceland manages to reward workers up and down the corporate hierarchy.
We wanted to find out just how big the wage gap is in some of the USA’s biggest companies, as well as see how different countries compare by the same measure. To compare different companies, we collected salary data from Salary.com for 100 different companies’ CEOs and employees. We then calculated the difference in earnings between the two and ranked them accordingly.
To compare countries against one another, we first used OECD data to collect average salaries for each country. We then used data from Salary Expert to find the average CEO salaries and hourly rates for each country in our list. We converted these salaries into USD using XE.com on Wednesday 27th October, and calculated the difference between CEO and employee salaries for each country, ranking them accordingly.