Top Secret

Top Secret (filmfoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Gilda Chan doesn't mind tweeting about the TV she's watching, the causes she supports, or her job as an inventory manager at Sears. And when her friends ask her about the rent she pays on her Gold Coast apartment, she's happy to tell them. (It's $1,700 a month.)

But there are other aspects of her financial life that Chan, 33, is not comfortable discussing publicly, like her salary.

"No, I'm more private than that," she said. "I am open to sharing my salary with my family and closest friends, but if a close friend happened to be a co-worker, I might have to rethink it."

If Millennials are pioneers in the age of oversharing, money might be the final taboo, even as people become more open to discussing once off-limits topics such as sex, relationships and mental health with their friends and others on social media.

A majority of Millennials and digital natives believe social norms are changing to reward the disclosure of personal information on social media, according to a 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Research Internet Project. And compared to people 35 or older, they are more likely to share their personal information with online businesses, more receptive to targeted advertising and more willing to trade their personal information for some concrete benefit, such as a discount on a product, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for the Digital Future.

But does that openness extend to information about income and spending?

Chan doesn't talk about how much she makes not only because company policy discourages it, but also because she doesn't want to spark envy or guilt—for her or for her friends—by bringing it up. It's a common sentiment.

"In this country, we have this notion that how much money you make is how much you're worth to society," said Daniel Case, 25, a business analyst who works in the Loop. "It's not really true, but how much money you make becomes a proxy for the quality of your job or the quality of your education, or the quality of your intellect, and it's mostly insulting to compare how much you're worth to somebody else. And of course, it's not ever really accurate."

The laws around sharing salary information are nuanced. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employers cannot prohibit employees from discussing their salaries with one another, because doing so would limit their abilities to collectively bargain, but employers are still allowed to ask employees to sign confidentiality agreements that bar them from discussing their salaries outside of the company.

Case and Chan both said they have shared their salary figures with their parents and some close friends, but that's it.

Allison Horne, 25, of Lakeview, was hesitant to share the salary she makes as a production assistant, but ultimately did—$35,000 a year.

"I think this generation is a lot more open to pretty much everything," she said. "My boyfriend knows, my sister knows, I think some of my close friends know. I wouldn't have a problem telling them if someone asked."

But she understands why other people hesitate.

"I don't think I have a problem sharing, but at the same time, I know when I got offered my job I asked for more money, and I don't know if others did," she said. "It can be a touchy subject."

Some evidence that people are becoming more comfortable sharing the details of their wages and work duties—at least, anonymously—can be found at Glassdoor, a jobs reviewing website modeled after Yelp that launched in 2008.

Scott Dobroski, a community expert and spokesman for Glassdoor, said site users have reported information about their salaries and job duties at more than 300,000 companies, including how much some users negotiated their salaries with their companies.

"Users say, 'You really helped me negotiate a good salary that I wouldn't have known about otherwise.'" he said. "Salary has been a very hidden thing that people haven't always felt comfortable talking about and sharing."

Nat Sanit, a financial coach at Next Door Cafe in Lincoln Park, sees some of the effects of that taboo firsthand. He said many of the 20- and 30-somethings who come into the State Farm outpost looking for financial advice don't feel like there are many people in their lives they can talk to about money issues, so they seek out advice from someone with an independent perspective.

"Sometimes people say, 'Well, I talk a little bit to my family about this, but I don't like to share how much debt I have,' " he said. "We're kind of an unbiased third party."

Horne said she respects her friends and co-workers who keep their earnings under wraps, because the culture of openness has its drawbacks.

"At my last job, couple of people I hung out with made more money than me, in a different department, and it would drive me bonkers," she said. "I think people are generally more open about it, but depending on the situation it can really get under your skin."

rcromidas@tribune.com

 

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