Does a Salary Cap Really Work?

47 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2010 Last revised: 21 Dec 2010

See all articles by Jacqueline L. Garner

Jacqueline L. Garner

Georgia Institute of Technology - Scheller College of Business

Won Yong Kim

Augsburg College

Date Written: November 16, 2010


Limiting executive compensation through a salary cap has emerged as one of the latest global governance initiatives. We investigate the effectiveness of a form of an executive salary cap system and find that only firms with a high level of effective external monitors set their salary cap significantly sensitive to firm performance (cap-performance sensitivity). The difference between the salary cap and actual pay (the gap) varies by the level of monitoring. Therefore, the existence of an efficient external monitoring system may be critical for a salary cap system to be successful. We also find evidence suggesting that incentive structures created by a salary cap may properly work only in the presence of an effective external monitoring system by improving better pay-performance sensitivity. Since it is almost impossible to determine an optimal level for a salary cap, we conclude that improving firm-level governance may be more important to thwart highly excessive compensation than legalizing the upper limit.

Keywords: Executive compensation, Salary cap, Corporate governance

JEL Classification: G32, G34, G38

Suggested Citation

Garner, Jacqueline L. and Kim, Won Yong, Does a Salary Cap Really Work? (November 16, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Jacqueline L. Garner

Georgia Institute of Technology - Scheller College of Business ( email )

800 West Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30308
United States

Won Yong Kim (Contact Author)

Augsburg College ( email )

United States

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