The high pay of U.S. CEOs relative to their foreign counterparts has been cited as evidence of excesses in U.S. executive compensation practices. This perception of a “pay divide” between the United States and the rest of the world is usually based on estimates provided by professional services firms like Towers Watson that receive a good deal of press coverage. However, attempts to understand the magnitude and determinants of the U.S. pay premium have been plagued by data limitations due to international differences in rules regulating the disclosure of executive compensation.
In our paper, Are U.S. CEOs Paid More? New International Evidence, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use new data to compare CEO pay in 1,648 U.S. firms versus 1,615 firms from 13 foreign countries. Thanks to recently expanded disclosure rules, our sample includes publicly listed firms from both Anglo-Saxon and continental European countries that had mandated disclosure of CEO pay by 2006. It covers nearly 90% of the market capitalization of firms in these markets and, importantly, comprises firms with different corporate governance arrangements.