This briefing forms part of our Equal Pay Day 2021 campaign. It explores how ending the recruitment practice of asking for salary history has a significant and positive effect on closing the gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

Read the End Salary History: Equal Pay Day 2021 briefing here.

Salary history questions ask job applicants to provide information on their pay in previous roles. By basing a person’s salary in their new job on their previous pay, these questions stop workers from seeking to increase their wages or escape the impact of wage discrimination by moving jobs.

Key findings include: 

Ending salary history questions has a significant positive effect in closing pay gaps:

  • In the US, 21 states or city governments have taken the step of banning salary history questions to some degree. Research on the effect of these changes tends to find that these bans have narrowed the gender pay gap.

Half of workers have been asked salary history questions, and say they impact confidence in negotiation and pay outcomes: 

  • In our polling, the most common impact that women reported as a result of salary history questions was that it made them less confident in negotiating for better pay, affecting 61% of women. 58% of women and 54% of men reported that they felt they got a lower salary offer than if the question hadn’t been asked.  

Salary history questions tarnish employers’ reputations: 

  • For 54% of men and 57% of women agree being asked salary history questions made them feel less positive about their potential employer. Polling by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that nearly two thirds of women take the gender pay gap into account when considering applying to a new job.
  • Slightly more UK women than men, 63% compared to 58%, agreed that they would think more highly of an employer who chose not to ask salary history questions.

Determining pay through salary history is unpopular: 

  • Metrics such as the skill and responsibilities required to do the job (80% of respondents), and the value of the work to the organisation (77%), were agreed to be the most valid ways to determine pay. Just 24% of the public agreed that salary history should be used, with women less likely than men to agree (22% vs. 26%).

Four in ten people lie in response to salary history questions:

  • Finally, our survey shows that salary history questions are a waste of time – they simply cannot be trusted as a benchmark. Four in ten (39%) workers say that they have lied in response to salary history questions.

The briefing combines a rapid evidence assessment of the research literature on salary history bans in the US, exploration of some other gender equality-enhancing changes to recruitment, nationally representative polling of the UK population conducted by Savanta Comres, and case studies from the public of the impact of salary history questions collated via an online survey by East London Fawcett Society.