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Women Do Ask for Raises—They Just Don't Receive Them, Study Says

A new study on the gender wage gap disputes the theory that women are often paid less than men because they never ask for raises.
Image by Sean Locke via Stocksy

Researchers have long argued that one of the reasons men make more money in the workplace is that women hesitate to negotiate their pay. However, a new study published this month shows that women do, in fact, ask. They just do not receive.

The study, published by the Cass Business School, the University of Warwick and the University of Wisconsin, looked at real-world data culled from the 2013-14 Australian Workplace Relations Survey, which asked workers to answer questions about pay negotiations and whether or not they've asked for a raise and received one. (Australia is the only country to do this.) After analyzing the information submitted by approximately 4,600 employees over the span of 840 workplaces, researchers found "no statistical difference" in the likelihood of male and female workers asking for a raise while working with their current employer.


Read more: Congress to Consider Landmark Bill to Help Close the Gender Wage Gap

The overall data revealed that 75 percent of men had asked for a pay increase, compared to 66 percent of women. But after adjusting for other factors like hours worked, the nature of the employer, and the qualifications of the workers, researchers found there was no difference in the percentage of men and women who requested a better salary.

They also tested the theory that women do not ask because they're concerned about making things awkward in the office. Contrary to popular belief, the researchers found that fewer women (12.9 percent) than men (14.6 percent) said they had not attempted to obtain an increase in pay "because of concern for their relationships in the workplace."

Furthermore, researchers discovered that men were 25 percent more likely to receive a pay increase when they asked.

You can't negotiate your way around discrimination.

"Having seen these findings, I think we have to accept that there is some element of pure discrimination against women," one of the study's authors, Andrew Oswald of University of Warwick, said in a press release.

This is why we need to pass pay equity legislation, says Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations and advocacy at American Association of University Women. "As much as we understand that women need to ask for more and ask for what they're worth, we also know you can't negotiate your way around discrimination," Maatz tells Broadly. "Systemic discrimination still very much exists."


One way to help tackle the gender wage gap, Maatz argues, is to ban questions about salary history. This week, members of Congress will introduce a bill similar to one passed in Massachusetts last month that does just that.

"Relying on salary history to set future salary is a form of bias because you're assuming that prior salaries were fairly established," Maatz says. "That in and of itself is a roadblock to women getting equal pay."

One positive takeaway from the study is a possible better outlook for future generations of women in the workplace. "The younger women in the labor market appear statistically indistinguishable from the younger men," the study's authors write, in terms of obtaining a pay raise. "Hence it could be that negotiating behavior has begun to change."

But Maatz suggests that while millennial women may be better at negotiating than older women, another explanation might have to do with what she calls "the motherhood penalty." The perception is that young women fresh out of school and unencumbered by family obligations are on equal footing in their careers as young men, she explains. Once children come into the picture, biases based on stereotypes that have nothing to do with the job can begin to influence pay decisions.

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"The reality is women can do everything right and still not get paid fairly," Maatz says. "They can have the right degree, they can ask the right questions, they can have top performance and still be paid unfairly because they're women."