Women have lower expectations and lack knowledge of their worth

One critical factor in the negotiation gap may be that women expect to be paid less and don’t know what they are worth.  Researchers have looked at differences between men and women in pay expectations and found that men are more likely to feel worthy of higher pay while women have a depressed sense of wage entitlement.

Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, offer some interesting observations based on their research:

  • Many women are so grateful to be offered a job that they accept what they are offered and don't negotiate their salaries.
  • Women often don't know the market value of their work. Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs; men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks.

A study published in 2010 in the Psychology of Women Quarterly by psychologist Melissa Williams and her colleagues found that when people were given pairs of male and female first names, and asked to estimate their salaries, both men and women estimated significantly higher salaries for men than women.  When participants were placed in the role of employer and asked to judge what newly hired men and women deserved to earn, the researchers found that men, and to a lesser extent women, assigned higher salaries to men than women based on automatic stereotypical associations.

In other words, perceptions of men as higher earners than women have led to a stereotype that associates men with wealth.  This stereotype may perpetuate the wage gap:  for example, it may influence an employer’s initial salary offer to a male job candidate, or a female graduate’s intuitive expectation about what salary she can appropriately ask for at her first job.