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Institute for Compensation Studies

abstract collage representing compensation studies

The Institute for Compensation Studies™ (ICS) at Cornell University's ILR School is an interdisciplinary center that researches, teaches and communicates about monetary and non-monetary rewards from work, and how these rewards influence outcomes for individuals, companies, industries, and economies.

Chelsea Pan ILR '21

Cover image for Chelsea Pan's Testimonial.

Student Researcher at the Institute for Compensation Studies

Interest: Salary History Question Ban

The research project that I participated in for the Fall 2019 semester involved studying the effects of an implemented policy on the labor force. The research question was: Is the recently implemented Salary History Question Ban (SHB) achieving its intended objective of decreasing the gender wage gap? The Salary History Question Ban is a policy enacted by several states and localities including the California state, New York City*, etc. The SHB prohibits employers from asking about job applicants’ previous compensations during the job hiring process. The intention of this law is to mitigate the gender wage gap. This research question evaluates if the enacted law is reaching its intended objective of decreasing this wage gap. 

My role in this project is to conduct a literature review on the Salary History Question Ban. My specific object over this semester-long period as a research assistant for this study was to establish a literature review on various aspects of the SHB. I was tasked with reading studies on topics related to the SHB to create a foundation for understanding what the SHB is and what potential consequences could result from its implementation. I also read existing papers that similarly evaluate the influence of the SHB on the gender wage gap. 

To build a solid foundation for understanding how the SHB operates, I reviewed the works of Abigail Wozniak, David Autor and David Scarborough, Keith Finlay, etc. These researchers all published works reviewing changes in employer screenings similar to the SHB. The changes in employer screenings mentioned in these papers include drug testing, job testing, pre-employment credit screening, and accessing criminal history records. I studied these other changes and their influences on the labor force and market to gain a sense of how the SHB would potentially influence the direct stakeholders involved. To obtain a deeper understanding, I focused on a particular policy similar to the SHB – the Ban the Box policy, and the effects it had. I discovered if this policy reached its intended goals and compared the circumstances that existed to that under the SHB. I also analyzed different components involved in the SHB, such as the gender wage gap and compensation history. In addition to building a foundation, I also reviewed the works of Drew McNichols and Sourav Sinha. Their literature has similar research questions and objectives of this research project. 

There were multiple key takeaways from conducting this research over the Fall 2019 semester. Firstly, I learned how to conduct a literature review and that this step is essential to understanding the layout of a research project and gaining a sense of direction on the study’s progression. Through establishing the literature review, I was informed of the case of Ban the Box where the enacted policy created unintended consequences on the labor force. Instead of improving the conditions for the targeted group, the Ban the Box policy initiated the practice of statistical discrimination and worsened the situation. Since the circumstances are similar to that of the Salary History Question Ban, we must be alert in ensuring that statistical discrimination does not occur from this implementation. This project has tremendous “real world value” due to the fact that this is an actual policy that was implemented and is currently followed and has “real world” effects on real people. Whether this policy results in beneficial or discriminatory outcomes, actual people in the labor force will experience its effects. Through this research project, we can discover if there are unfavorable unintended consequences. If there proves to be presence of this, then the policy must be adjusted to result in its intended objective.