Why does the myth of low government salaries persist?

Are government salaries low?

In 2015, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) compared salaries across government and private sector. Here are some of the highlights from their detailed report.

Employment does not mean regular salaried work.

In India, only 48% of people with any kind of employment, had regular salaried jobs in the quarter October — December 2019 [1]. This is when the Labor force Participation rate in the same quarter was as low as 37% (57% for male and 17% for female). In other words, more than 60% of working age people were not looking for employment and of those employed, only 48% had regular salaried employment.

Do state government jobs have a low pay?

The comparisons that I have made above are for central government jobs. It is beyond the scope of this post to compare salaries of all state government employees with salaries in private sector, but I note two things.

Does bad service performance by state government lead to the myth of low salaries?

It is possible that people reflexively associate bad service delivery with low pay. So, if they see pictures of shabby government schools or hear about bad educational outcomes, they automatically assume that the employees in those schools must be paid badly.

The Pareto Principle and the availability heuristic

I have performed professionally as an Improv theatre artist in Mumbai for the last ten years. One of the privileges of this job is working with highly talented actors. One of the sorrows has been to see how much these talented actors have to struggle financially. This is true for most actors. Mumbai is flooded with talented people from across the world trying to catch a break and most of these people make very little money. And yet, in the general perception, actors are rich people. This is because people associate acting with superstars like Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra. But for every Ranveer Singh there are hundreds of extremely able actors, who have to do all kinds of odd jobs to make ends meet. A very small proportion of actors enjoy a very large share of the revenue that all actors make. This small proportion is very visible because media talks about them all the time. This visibility makes us believe that the very highly paid actors are representative of the whole acting community. This is the Pareto Principle and availability heuristic in action. I believe that these shape our perception of the private sector jobs too.

Why does this matter?

If some people think that government pay is low and they are wrong, how does it matter? Especially, as the majority of Indians, who think that a government job is the best option for themselves, do not think so.


1. Salaries for most central government jobs are higher than comparable jobs in private sector.



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Yogesh Upadhyaya

Yogesh Upadhyaya


Entrepreneur. Economist. Investor. Actor. Technophile. Policy wonk. Comedian. I love to explore places where these worlds intersect.