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Talking about salaries

A little while back, I was at a talk in a community college classroom where an engineer from Boeing (they make airplanes, among other things) was giving a short lecture on how to better prepare yourself as a beginner in the engineering field. Suddenly, out of the blue.. an awkward guy straight up raises his hand and asks:

So, like, how much money do you make?”

The young engineer at the front of the class got quiet, and looked at the host of the whole thing, then looked at the student again, and chuckled.

“If you want to know, I’ll tell you after the lecture… I mean, it’s no big deal but.. you know.”

Oh, so what kind of car do you drive?”

“A Corolla?”

We all felt the tension in the room and we wanted it to go away, but could do very little about it.

Has anyone ever wondered WHY it is so awkward to speak about salaries?

money salary

I mean, even with our close friends and relatives. With our parents and siblings. With strangers at the bus stop. Why have we tabooed the crap out of it?

We make ourselves vulnerable by revealing how much money we make. It is almost like telling someone how much we weigh, or what your cup size is. We can all make a pretty good estimated guess, but refuse to bring attention to it at all cost.

I just find it funny how we just avoid the topic, and how easy it is to do so because nobody likes to talk about it. Not even “rich” people.

So, how much money do you make?

Haha, just kidding.

Here’s the question:

Are you open to speaking about salaries?


From yesterday’s post:

How do you let someone know that you want them to shut up?



Excellent idea. Just lie your way out of there. 

“But tomorrow is Sunday!” 

“Yeah, its a Sunday test. It’s a pretty hardcore class!”

The good news is you can use that excuse 5 days out of the week. 

  1. No, I don’t think I’ll be open about salaries…. only to my husband, I guess ( I don’t have a husband ), or my children. My parents don’t know exactly how much my older brother and sister are earning…. my brother is the head engineer of a big international construction company, and we know he’s getting a 5 figure salary a month, but he won’t tell us how much. He’s still single.

    July 23, 2013
  2. I don’t have a salary, so nothing to feel awkward about there, right? I don’t feel any pressing urge to know anyone else’s really, apart from politicians so I can grumble how they get way more than they deserve.

    Interestingly, this is not just a phenomenon from our culture – if you ever go to Lapland and meet Saami reindeer herders, never ask them how many reindeer they have as this is effectively the same question to them! They mark the ears of their reindeer within the larger herd so they can only identify them up close.

    July 24, 2013
  3. Salary talk is generally verboten in most companies. I’d posit it’s because talk of a “class” system is also verboten in America. This is supposed to be the land of bootstraps and limitless opportunity; provided you can find a indigenous culture to loot.

    Martin Luther King, Jr.’s biggest mistake was stopping his talk about racial equality (the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964) and beginning to talk about class inequality. How poor whites and poor blacks are technically stuck in the same socio-economic hole. Talk which earned him a bullet to the head.

    When reviews came out in my company, we were told that we could tell our employees what our rantings were if we felt that would help them accept their scores. But we were warned to never, under any circumstances, let these same employees know how much we make.

    July 24, 2013
  4. Gah this is so true! Honestly, I have no problem telling my friends and family exactly what I make. It makes them understand why they sometimes get crappy if any birthday presents (lolz). With coworkers, it’s a big no no though. Don’t want people getting all entitled and jealous.

    July 24, 2013
  5. In a capitalist society, how much money you make is a symbol of how much you are worth. I think a lot of people are squeamish about how worthy or unworthy they are in comparison to others.

    July 30, 2013
  6. BK #

    Nopz. I am not open to salary except close friends and family. However, come to think of it, I don’t know why not disclosing salaries is so important. I guess, it’s just become the norm. Reading your post, I knew I don’t tell salaries, but couldn’t answer WHY.

    August 14, 2013
  7. Well, only my family knew my salary, since they pressed me to say, but other than that I don’t think it is something I want to go around telling people, it’s just weird.

    October 15, 2013

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