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Pay Day

The naked paycheck

David Brancaccio Aug 24, 2012
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It’s Friday — payday for some of us — and the last day in our Payday series. This week, the Wealth and Poverty Desk has been untangling some of the mysteries of pay in America.

The assumption about pay is that we all want more of it. Who ever asks the boss for a decrease? But there’s research suggesting that beyond a point, a bigger paycheck is not always better.

A recent Princeton study found that more money doesn’t make you happier once household income hits $75,000 a year. That same study also looked at life satisfaction, and in that case, there was no upper limit. The bigger your income, the more satisfied you feel about your life as a whole.

I tested out the theory with Jennifer Creswell, an Episcopal priest in Portland, Ore., who wrote to our Public Insight Network that she’d often “fantasized” about inviting friends over to talk about how much they make and their priorities for spending, sharing, saving. And she did just that, hosting a party with her husband Ian Doescher and four other friends to discuss and bare their salaries.

Here are some of the highlights:

“I was thinking of you all coming tonight. And I was thinking, like imagining, um, that we were all going to get naked together,” Creswell said. “And I was thinking am I actually gonna do it? Am I actually going to share what I make?”

Another Episcopal priest, Shana McCauley, revealed her household income: “We together make just under $65,000…I feel like we’re pretty low middle class. We’re middle class because we have expendable income, but we’ve just been going through our bills and it doesn’t look good.”

Doescher, who works in marketing, said he often felt his paycheck should be bigger during boys’ night out with his buddies. “I pretty much assume they all make more than I do. I honestly think that hanging out with them more since we’ve moved back to Portland was one of the things that made me think: I should be making more.” He opened up about his and Creswell’s salary: “We probably make…about $106,000 a year.”

Shana’s husband Ryan responded: “Well, I think it creates a little separation. You know, knowing that you have more means than we do and so we’re not there yet. We’ve been trying to kick it together to buy a manufactured home and that’s like our big dream right now but that seems like so far off. But on the other hand it still makes you human. You’re not superhuman. You’re not making millions of dollars a year.”

Listen to more of the conversation in the full audio above.


We reached out to our Public Insight Network and asked “Are you comfortable telling others how much money you make?” We broke down the answers and data:

Share your stories with us.

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