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Women’s Pessimism About Salaries Helps Sustain Gender Pay Gap

Women’s Pessimism About Salaries May Help Sustain Gender Pay Gap

Attempts to end the gender pay gap may be thwarted by the tendency for women to be pessimistic about their earning potential, according to new research.

The study from the University of Bath in England shows that women underestimate their earnings prospects. This leads to lower expectations and little inclination to push for higher wages or a promotion, or seek a better paid position, according to the researchers.

On the flip side, men consistently overestimate their prospects, the study found. When reality fails to live up to their optimistic expectations, they are dissatisfied and more likely than women to try to engineer a pay rise or promotion, or change jobs in the pursuit of better pay, they found.

The new research adds to the mix of causes of the gender pay gap and calls into question the effectiveness of policy measures to address the gap, the scientists report.

The Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee recently criticized the English government for failing to implement reforms aimed at eliminating the gender pay gap, which The Office for National Statistics puts at 9.4 percent for full-time employees in 2016. From April 6, 2017, new gender pay gap regulations require companies to publish information on the difference between male and female salaries.

Published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, the study’s findings are based on analysis from the British Household Panel Survey tracking expectations of salaries from unemployment to paid employment.

The findings suggest men have a tendency to overestimate what they would be paid, while women underestimated their pay prospects. This adds to the body of evidence that shows women underestimate their abilities, while men consistently overestimate their capabilities, the researchers note.

“If low female expectations in terms of pay is fueled by a pessimistic outlook, then even without discrimination and progression-related issues, women will continue to underestimate themselves and continue to inadvertently accept pay inequality,” said Dr. Chris Dawson, a senior lecturer at the University of Bath’s School of Management.

“It has serious implications for policy that is trying to address the gender pay gap and suggests more needs to be done to actively advance women at work, without relying on them to self-select for promotion and senior opportunities. The takeaway message of this research is not about putting the responsibility on women, but recognizing that without policy measures to address this, we run the risk of never closing the gender pay gap.”

While the role of unconscious bias in gender relations in the workplace has been well documented, this new research demonstrates the role of unconscious pessimism and passivity on the part of women, added Professor Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the University’s School of Management.

“It shows the importance of people management practices that enable and encourage women to progress and recognize their value,” she said. “The onus is on policy makers and employers to foster female talent so that initiatives to close the gender pay gap can succeed.”

Source: University of Bath

Women’s Pessimism About Salaries May Help Sustain Gender Pay Gap

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Women’s Pessimism About Salaries May Help Sustain Gender Pay Gap. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Mar 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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