FRB logo

Abstract: We analyze the long-run trends in executive compensation using a new panel dataset of top executives in large firms from 1936 to 2005. In sharp contrast to the well-known steep upward trajectory of pay of the past 30 years, the median real value of compensation was remarkably flat from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, highlighting a weak relationship between compensation and aggregate firm size. While this correlation has changed considerably over the century, the cross-sectional relationship between pay and firm size has remained stable. Another surprising finding is that the sensitivity of changes in an executive's wealth to firm performance was not inconsequentially small for most of our sample period. Thus, recent years were not the first time when compensation arrangements served to align managerial incentives with those of shareholders. Overall, these trends pose a challenge to several common explanations for the recent surge in executive pay.

Keywords: Migration, business cycles

Full paper (513 KB PDF) | Full paper (Screen Reader Version)

Appendix associated with the version forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies:
Appendix (296K PDF) | Appendix (Screen Reader Version)