Another Reason for the Pay Gap

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jul 31, 2007 10:00 AM
You can't magically make salaries equal in a marketplace that demands negotiations:

About 10 years ago, a group of graduate students lodged a complaint with Linda C. Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University: All their male counterparts in the university's PhD program were teaching courses on their own, whereas the women were working only as teaching assistants.

That mattered, because doctoral students who teach their own classes get more experience and look better prepared when it comes time to go on the job market.

When Babcock took the complaint to her boss, she learned there was a very simple explanation: "The dean said each of the guys had come to him and said, 'I want to teach a course,' and none of the women had done that," she said. "The female students had expected someone to send around an e-mail saying, 'Who wants to teach?' "
The result of that experience was a long-term study of gender differences in negotiations when asking for "pay raises, resources, or promotions." Some of the results are telling:

In one early study, Babcock brought 74 volunteers into a laboratory to play a word game called Boggle. The volunteers were told they would be paid anywhere from $3 to $10 for their time. After playing the game, each student was given $3 and asked if the sum was okay. Eight times more men than women asked for more money.

Babcock then ran the experiment a different way. She told a new set of 153 volunteers that they would be paid $3 to $10 but explicitly added that the sum was negotiable. Many more now asked for more money, but the gender gap remained substantial: 58 percent of the women, but 83 percent of the men, asked for more.

Now, feminists would have us set precise salaries for every job and dole them out to each worker, regardless of competence or negotiating skill, just so that we can prevent the dreaded pay gap (which is also caused, in part, by women workers' decision to take time out of the workplace to have children and raise them). But the workplace is a market, in which everyone is working in his own self-interest.

Those who play hardball sometimes get rewarded for it, and if you're unwilling to play the game, you can't make society entirely to blame for your lower salary. An employer doesn't have an obligation to pay you any more than you're willing to assert you're worth.

There's more to it than women just being more assertive, however, and here's where the feminists have a point, according to this study:

Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women's reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".

"What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not."

Ahh, back to blaming it on men. That feels better. Uh-oh, not so fast:

...women tended to penalize both men and women who negotiated, and preferred applicants who did not ask for more.

Interesting reading.