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Shooting Down One Excuse for Why Women Make Less

Data from Australia suggests females do indeed ask for raises, but are less likely than men to receive them.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

By now it’s well-known that women, on average, earn 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. The reasons for this are complex and much-debated, with one school of thought suggesting females are simply too timid when it comes to their salary demands.

A 2007 study found that, among new master’s degree recipients entering the work force, 51 percent of the men, but only 12.5 percent of the women, attempted to negotiate a salary higher than the initial offer. Not surprisingly, the result was that men tended to earn more.

So are women reluctant to ask for a raise? New research suggests the answer is no.

“This paper provides evidence, of a direct and simple kind, that women do ask, but do not get” salary increases,” write Benjamin Artz of the University of Wisconsin, Amanda Goodall of City University London, and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick.

“I think we have to accept that there is some element of pure discrimination against women,” Oswald said in announcing the findings.

The findings imply a certain level of gender discrimination.

The researchers analyzed data from Australia — specifically, the most recent Australian Workplace Relations Study, which covers the years 2013–14. The large survey—it features responses from 4,600 workers at 840 workplaces, just over half of them female — asks specific questions about pay raises, of both the requested and granted variety.

After taking into account a number of variables (including the number of hours worked), the researchers find “no statistical difference between men and women in the probability of having asked” for a raise. However, women are “less likely to say they have been successful in obtaining a salary rise while working for their current employer.”

The numbers suggest that “women are one-quarter less likely to obtain a raise” than men.

What’s more, the findings provide no evidence for the thesis that women are more reluctant to ask for a raise because “they are more cognizant than males of possible deleterious effects on their relationships” with managers.

“It is not true that women feel more satisfied than men in their workplace role,” the researchers add.

So if “the women-don’t ask account is incorrect,” as the study concludes, why do women get smaller salaries? The study does not come up with an answer, but the findings imply a certain level of gender discrimination.

On a brighter note, the study finds “young women today are negotiating their pay and conditions more successfully than older females,” Goodall notes. “Perhaps that will continue as they become more senior.”

Let us hope. “Ask and ye shall receive” isn’t supposed to exclusively apply to men.