The highest-paid CEO in the United States earned over $140 million in 2017.

The study from The Associated Press data firm Equilar concluded with Hock Tan of Broadcom, who made US$103.2 million (NZ$148.7 million), at the top of the handsomely paid pile.

The vast majority of Tan's compensation came in the form of a stock grant, valued at US$98.3 million. He'll receive the shares if the stock hits certain performance targets over the next four years. The company said in a filing with regulators that the figure looks substantial, but the amount Tan earns will "only be exceptional if our (stock returns relative to other companies) is exceptional."

The second-highest paid CEO was Leslie Moonves of CBS. He made US$68.4 million, including a US$20 million bonus. CBS stock fell in 2017, but the company's board highlighted how CBS is producing more premium content where it has an ownership stake, among other accomplishments.

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Number three was W. Nicholas Howley at TransDigm, which designs and produces aircraft components. He earned US$61 million, including US$51.2 million of payments from the company on stock options he holds, as if they had earned dividends. Howley, a Transdigm co-founder, left his position as CEO last month. He is now executive chairman.

Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner was the fourth-highest paid CEO at US$49 million. Time Warner rejiggered its compensation formulas for executives following its deal to be acquired by AT&T, which was announced in 2016 but is still awaiting government approval. Bewkes received restricted stock valued at US$32 million.

Next was TripAdvisor's Stephen Kaufer, at US$43.2 million. He received grants of options and restricted stock valued at US$42.1 million, and the company said it does not expect to give him another stock grant as long-term incentive compensation until 2021.

While there were no women among the top ten, The Associated Press also compiled a list of the highest-paid female CEOs in the United States.

Women make up only 5 percent of the CEO ranks at S&P 500 companies. Yet median compensation for a female CEO was valued at US$13.5 million for the 2017 fiscal year, versus US$11.5 million for their male counterparts, according to an analysis by Equilar.

Topping the list of highest-paid female CEOs is Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, whose compensation was US$25.9 million.

Debra Cafaro, CEO of real estate investment trust Ventas came in second at US$25.3 million. And Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, wrapped up the top three at US$21.9 million.

Median pay for female CEOs rose 15.4 per cent from the prior year, while for men it increased 8.2 per cent. But Nooyi, the top paid female CEO, didn't even crack the top 10 list overall. She's number 18.

Of the companies in the analysis, only 17 were women. Looking at the full S&P 500, there were 27 female CEOs as of the end of 2017, up from 24 at the end of 2016.

"The inability to push seasoned females up the ranks is tragic in my mind," said Josh Crist, managing director at executive search firm Crist Kolder Associates.

The situation could get even more attention after the recent departures of female CEOs from Campbell Soup and Mattel. Both were replaced by men.

A Pew Research Center study found that women held only about 10 per cent of top executive positions at publicly traded companies in the much larger Standard & Poor's Composite 1500. Of that group, the women tended to be in finance or legal positions that research shows are less likely to lead to the CEO office.

There is a bright spot, though: female representation on boards is improving, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit that works with companies to build a diverse workforce. And that, over time, leads to more women in executive leadership positions.

Companies are seeking diversity, both in gender and ethnicity, for their leadership, Crist said. But getting diverse talent at the top takes time because of the change needed throughout the organisation.

Part of the problem is that big companies can be slow-moving, said Drew Silver, a researcher at Pew. The female CEOs in charge now have been in their careers for 20 or 30 years, so their rise reflects the corporate culture of the 1980s. He worries real change will take years.

Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services at Catalyst disagrees. She said companies that make the decision to change have been able to do so quickly.

"The differentiator is not generation or time, but it's how much does it matter to the leader or organisation," she said. "When someone asks to make the business case for diversity, that case is out of the gate. They are more into the how."

- Associated Press.