CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978

Chief executive officers (CEOs) of the largest firms in the U.S. earn far more today than they did in the mid-1990s and many times what they earned in the 1960s or late 1970s. They also earn far more than the typical worker, and their pay has grown much more rapidly. Importantly, rising CEO pay does not reflect rising value of skills, but rather CEOs’ use of their power to set their own pay. And this growing power at the top has been driving the growth of inequality in our country.

This report is part of an ongoing series of annual reports monitoring trends in CEO compensation. In this report, we examine current trends to determine how CEOs are faring compared with typical workers (through 2018) and compared with workers in the top 0.1% (through 2017). We also look at the relationship between CEO pay and the stock market.

To analyze current trends, we use two measures of compensation. The first measure includes stock options realized (in addition to salary, bonuses, restricted stock awards, and long-term incentive payouts). Because stock-options-realized compensation tends to fluctuate with the stock market (as people tend to cash in their stock options when it is most advantageous to do so), we also look at another measure of CEO compensation, to get a more complete picture of trends in CEO compensation. This measure tracks the value of stock options granted (in addition to salary, bonuses, restricted stock awards, and long-term incentive payouts).

Economic Policy Institute