Gen Z wants to be shown the money—and policymakers and employers are answering the call. Economic uncertainty, higher cost of living, and increasing state and local legislation around pay transparency are shifting the conversation on the delicate subject of salary.
Our sixth Handshake Network Trends report leverages platform data and user sentiment to answer the questions:
Salary—and pay transparency—is a top factor for Gen Z jobseekers, but are expectations for starting salaries realistic (or equitable)?
Will new salary transparency laws reframe how employers advertise salary?
In a survey of over 1,800 Handshake college-grad job seekers, 4 out of 5 respondents are prioritizing what matters—and Gen Z is prioritizing stability above all else.
As layoffs and hiring freezes flood the news cycle, the class of 2023 has sharpened their focus on a starting salary. Notably, they tried to keep up with the increased cost of living.
As the year progresses, the class of 2023 is even more likely to apply to a job with a high starting salary.
“I want a job that will offer me a greater starting salary and an annual growth due to the inflation rates and continued increased cost of living. This will help with job stability and employee satisfaction which promotes good employee turnover.”
- Chemical Engineering major, Class of 2023
“Even before the economic stuff going on today, I was still applying to any job within my field I can do. I don’t have a preference on what industry or job title I work for. I just want a a high salary and benefits in a job.”
- Industrial & Systems Engineering major, Class of 2024
Gen Z grads are in tune with realistic starting salaries by industry. While most say a “high” starting salary would make them more likely to apply to a job, two-thirds of respondents’ idea of “high” is still under $100k. Although expected salary differs by industry, no subgroup in our analysis feels a “high” starting salary is above six figures.
Women respondents set a lower “high” starting salary compared to men, which was also consistent for women across all racial/ethnic groups. This highlights the longstanding issue of gender pay disparity: women’s salary expectations are lower from the start, potentially reflecting historical pay gaps.
Choice of major affects salary expectations, too. Salary expectations were the highest amongst engineering-related majors, the one field where women respondents were in the minority.
Knowing economic stability is top of mind for Gen Z, employers are offering up salary details. While legislation in Colorado, Washington, California, and New York reflects broader calls for transparency in job listings, employers in other states are making moves towards increased pay equity, too.
This is good news for students. In a previous Handshake Network Trends report, respondents—regardless of gender—overwhelmingly cited a clear "salary range" on a job description as the greatest motivator when applying to a position.
Data from the Handshake network mirrors trends in state legislation: in 2020, 29% of all full-time job postings provided applicants with a salary, whereas in 2022, more than a third (38%) of all full-time job postings provided a salary.
With hybrid and remote work being a norm across many industries, the labor market is more fluid for both employers and jobseekers, and employers are likely responding in advance of what’s to come. Additionally, competition for labor during the “great recession” may have prompted companies to start disclosing competitive salaries to attract talent.
|Effective date||Sep. 17,
|Name||S.9427-A/A.10477||Equal Pay For Equal Work Act||Equal Pay and Opportunities Act||SB 1162|
|Details||Four or more employees to list salary||At least one employee working in Colorado||15+
This is the year of pay transparency. Responding to current market conditions, Gen Z is ushering the topic of salary to the forefront of conversations with employers. We’re seeing more adoption of pay transparency policies by companies nationwide, alongside the existing laws in Colorado, California, New York, and Washington.
Understanding that the gender pay gap starts even before women enter the workforce—in fact, as early as when salary expectations are communicated—we see how essential pay transparency is to narrowing the gap and advancing equity in the workforce. Both employers and policymakers have much to gain by adopting these practices early in the game. Now is the time.