Women’s Low Salary Expectations Are Reportedly Contributing to the Gender Pay Gap

Women at work. Photo: Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

Following Wednesday’s galvanizing women’s strike, one that put a direct focus on the labor that women perform for less pay than men, a new study was released by University of Bath in the U.K. that says women’s pessimistic feelings about the gender pay gap actually might be contributing to its refusal to close.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, looked at the responses to a longitudinal survey about people’s salary expectations in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, men overestimated what they would be paid while women undervalued themselves. From the study’s abstract:

Optimism, measured as an upwardly biased perception of the labour market returns distribution, increases the likelihood of disappointment with realized performance. A substantial proportion of the female job satisfaction advantage appears to be associated with both overly pessimistic female expectations and overly optimistic male expectations. 

In sum, women don’t get their hopes up, and have low expectations for their salaries, and therefore are more likely to accept lower or unfair pay because their expectations were met. This staves off the disappointment a woman might experience if she were to expect too much. When men did not get their expected salaries, they used the disappointment to motivate them to change jobs, or seek higher salaries or promotions.

But, as in most all things workplace related, putting the onus on women to course-correct unfair work practices is an undue burden. Would women having an optimistic outlook about their salaries actually guarantee they get paid more? Nope! As Dr. Chris Dawson, senior lecturer in business economics at the University of Bath’s School of Management and one of the study’s researchers, wrote, “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.”

Women’s Salary Expectations Are Contributing to the Pay Gap