Salaries: expectations meet the reality in Finland

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This week aTalent Recruiting released the results of their survey on the expectations and experiences of highly-educated employees in Finland. It includes interesting information particularly about the expectations they have about salaries as well as their attitudes about pay transparency.

This survey of 1 400 highly educated employees thus links nicely to our ongoing discussions about both of these topics. As such, it’s worth going over. We will, though, link it to some other sources of information about these same topics.

Survey respondents

The survey includes responses from altogether 1 442 employees. Roughly half are under 30 years of age. A little over half, in turn, are women. Most (79 %) were in full-time employment.

Many of the respondents were at the start of their careers with less than five years of work experience. Another large group was those who already had significantly longer careers (+15 years).  

A large chunk of the respondents (40 %) worked for large employers. Large here means employers with more than 250 employees. 

The survey included responses from 20 different industries. The five most common fields were information and communication (15.3 %), manufacturing industry (14.4 %), professional, scientific, and technical activities (9.2 %), other service activities (8.7 %), and financial and insurance activities (7.9 %).

The information and communication industry includes such fields as telecommunications, computer programming, broadcasting, and publishing activities. 

Professional, scientific, and technical activities include such fields as legal services, accounting, scientific research and development, advertising and marketing research, and architecture. 

Other services activities include repair of computers and personal and household goods and activities of membership organizations. 

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Salaries: expectations and the reality

According to the survey,  around 50 % of highly educated employees in Finland expect their starting salary to be 3 000 – 4 000 € per month. 

Interestingly, whereas 27 % of men expect their starting salary to be over 4 000 €/month, only 14 % of women expect the same. 

Expectations meet the harsh reality when the survey asked what their starting salary actually was in their first job after graduation. 42 % of men and 49 % of women said that it was 2 000 – 3 000 €/month. Only 32 % of men and 25 % reached the 3 000 – 4 000 bracket in their first job. 

The survey revealed that men expect their salary progression to be faster than women do. 38 % of men expect their monthly salary to be over 5 000 € after 5 years of full-time employment. Only 20 % of women expect that. 

This expectation seems quite high considering, for example, that the median salary of university engineers 5 years after graduation was a little over 4 000 € in 2019.  

Architects, in turn, made a bit more than that but still closer to 4 000 than 5 000 €. Those with a Masters degree made just below 4 000 € 5 years after graduation. These are also median salaries. 

The aTalent survey does not help us understand why these differences in expectations and indeed also in realities between men and women exist. We suspect, however, that a lot of it has to do with the gender segregation of the Finnish labor market.  

Recent information released by Statistics Finland supports this. They show that at each educational level men’s median salaries are 10 – 30 % higher than women’s. This difference is largely explained by the differences in the fields women and men get their degrees. 

At the same educational level, degrees favored by men tend to provide higher earnings than degrees favored by women. The higher the share of men among the graduates of a particular degree, the higher the median gross monthly income. The differences in men’s and women’s salaries are much less pronounced within fields than between them. 

Pay transparency: discussing salaries

Anyone who’s been looking for work in Finland knows that job ads here very rarely mention the salary associated with the position. Applicants are most often expected to state their desired salary in their application. 

Not knowing the salary is not only deeply frustrating to job applicants, but secrecy over salaries can also mask deep inequalities in pay once people are employed. 

As we discussed earlier, there have been and still are national efforts to increase pay transparency. There are also some delightful examples of pay transparency in some companies. Particularly in the software industry. 

We know from the last Quality of Worklife Survey that in 2018 only 16 % of employees felt that salaries and personal benefits are widely known at their workplace. In fact, this outcome was worse than it had been 15 years earlier. In 2003, 23 % of employees felt that they knew the salaries and personal benefits of their coworkers. 

The aTalent survey gives slightly more positive results for pay transparency. In that survey, 27 % of men and 25 % of women said that salaries are openly or relatively openly discussed at their workplace. Still, 50 % of me and 56 % of women said salaries are not discussed at all or almost at all openly. 

33 % of women and 32 % of men in their survey said they don’t know the salary of any of their coworkers.

Respondents of this study, however, talk about their salaries in their private life. 55 % of men and 61 % of women talk about their salaries in their private life. 

Almost equally, women and men talk about their salaries with their friends (21 % and 20 %, respectively), their partners (19 % and 20 %), as well as their parents (17 % of both).

Most respondents know the salary of at least one of their friends. About 40 % even know the salary of 3 – 5 of their friends.

Attitudes towards pay transparency

The aTalent survey also examined attitudes towards pay transparency.  

They found that 79 % of women and 61 % of men feel that salaries should be more openly discussed at the workplace. 89 % of women and 74 % feel that salaries should be discussed more openly in their fields. 

These results are remarkably positive considering that other surveys have found significant variation in attitudes towards pay transparency. 

The Association for Finnish lawyers, for example, have varied attitudes towards pay transparency that seem to be dependent on their age and gender as well as the sector in which they work.

Overall, 30 % of lawyers support full pay transparency but there was a significant difference between sectors. In the public sector, 35 % supported full pay transparency. In the private sector, only about 20 % did.  

Taloustutkimus did a survey for Yle at the start of this year regarding pay transparency. According to that survey, 43 % of Finns supported pay transparency. 39 % were against it. The rest didn’t know what to think about it. 

They found that women were more (47 %) in favor of pay transparency than men (38 %). 

Attitudes towards pay transparency also varied between supporters of different political parties. Those supporting left-wing parties are more in favor of pay transparency than those supporting right-wing parties. 

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