It’s not the size of your paycheck. It’s how you feel about it.

March 12, 2024

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Our relationship with pay is tangled and complex. It’s not just about how much money we make. It’s how we feel about that money. Is my paycheck on par with that of my peers? Am I worth more?

The ADP Research Institute’s annual Global Workplace Study asks 28,000 workers in 28 countries to respond to the following statement: “My pay is fair for the work I do.”

Our goal is to capture how individual workers feel about their pay, regardless of what’s printed on their paychecks.

In 2023, 31 percent of respondents felt that their pay was unfair for the work they do. This share is 1 percentage point smaller than it was when we asked this question in 2022. It might seem like a small change, but it masks big national differences, and even bigger differences between men and women.

In our global sentiment data, 34 percent of women say they’re paid unfairly, compared to 27 percent of men. This gap is unequivocal, and it’s important. Feelings about pay can be just as vital as pay itself because it can affect how workers perform on the job.

Just as feelings about pay equity vary widely by gender, they also are influenced by where a person lives, their age, their position on the work organization chart, and other variables.


In most of the 28 countries we surveyed, women were much more likely than men to say their pay is unfair. New Zealand revealed the biggest gender gap, with 2.3 times more women than men feeling unfairly paid. Sweden had the biggest share of women—56 percent—who feel unfairly paid.

In some countries, though, men were more likely to have complaints. Men working in Saudi Arabia, for example, were 1.7 times more likely than women to feel unfairly paid. South Korea, Japan, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates also had bigger shares of men feeling unfairly paid. In China and India, pay sentiment was evenly matched.


Because our global dataset is so large and robust, ADPRI can examine pay inequity through multiple lenses, including gender by age, location, tenure, and role within an organization.

As people get older—men and women—the feeling that they’re unfairly paid grows. These age differences could be influenced by changing social norms or increased awareness of pay equity issues. But the bottom line is that the feeling itself increases with age.

And while younger workers overall are less likely to feel underpaid, our global survey data shows that the pay equity gender gap is biggest among people aged 20 to 39, with an 8-point difference between men and women. This gender gap narrows as workers get older.

Work location

Pay equity sentiment differs widely depending on where people do their work. Hybrid workers who spend some days on site and others somewhere else are least likely to express feelings of being paid unfairly.

Unfair pay sentiment might be less common among remote and hybrid workers because of the trade-offs or perks that come with working from home, on the road, or at the coffee shop.

One example of these trade-offs is proximity. In the United States, it has long been considered taboo to discuss salary, and the rise of remote and hybrid work might have further eroded opportunities for workers to share notes on pay. It’s possible that details about who is paid what are more readily shared at the office or job site than on conference calls or web meetings. If hybrid or remote workers are in the dark about who is earning what, they might be less likely to question their own pay.

Notably, the gender gap also is smaller among hybrid and fully-remote workers than people who work only on site.

Type of work

The kind of work a person does also makes a difference on pay sentiment. Skilled task workers or people engaged in repetitive work are more likely to question whether their pay is fair.

Knowledge workers, by contrast, are the least likely to feel unfairly paid. They also have the widest gender gap in pay equity sentiment, particularly among those who work on-site.


Substantial differences in pay sentiment exist at every level of hierarchy. Individual contributors are 3.2 times more likely to say they are paid unfairly than people in upper management or leadership positions.

The gender gap in pay sentiment exists at every organizational level.


Tenure reveals interesting pay equity characteristics as well. Feelings of being unfairly paid steadily diminish over time, likely due to people being promoted into higher levels of management.

This trend reverses sharply after eight years on the job, but the data might be saying something less about tenure and more about level. That’s because 42 percent of respondents with more than eight years on the job are employed as individual contributors, who have the largest share of people who report feeling unfairly paid.

Why do we care?

Organizations by now have no shortage of reasons why they should correct pay inequity and the negative sentiment that surrounds it. Negative sentiment on pay can affect how workers perform on the job and their loyalty to an employer, both of which can have a direct effect on an organization’s bottom line. Retention is an important example. ADPRI data shows a strong relationship between an employee’s feelings of being paid fairly and their intent to leave their organization.

Workers who are considering leaving or in the process of leaving, are 2.2 times more likely to say they’re paid unfairly.

Feelings around pay equity matter to all workers. Of those who are considering leaving or who have already begun the process, one reason factoring into the decision could be in fact salary – for both genders.


It’s vital for employers in all countries to pay attention to and try to correct negative feelings surrounding pay equity. Women and men both strive for well-paying jobs with security. But what they consider good might be influenced by how they feel about the fairness of their pay.

Organizations need to hold pay equity discussions with employees regardless of their rank, age, gender, or tenure.

Consider the lesson of tenure. People who have been on the job for eight years or more probably possess considerable institutional knowledge and expertise. They also probably are the most likely to harbor feelings that they’re unfairly paid. While many factors certainly weigh into a person’s decision to quit an organization, addressing pay equity issues could prevent that institutional knowledge from walking out the door.