For the study, the researchers matched people in pairs, with one representing the employer and one the worker. At the start, the workers contributed either $20, $15, or $10 to a pot of money (the amount was determined by their performance on a math problem), and the firms contributed either $25 or $20. The researchers randomly assigned a “default wage” for the worker—either $4 less than they contributed, $2 less, exactly what they contributed, or $2 more.
The worker-employer teams were entered into one of two types of negotiations, all performed over instant message without revealing age, name, or gender. In the first condition, the worker could choose whether to negotiate their salary, and in the second, they had to negotiate, even if they didn’t particularly want to. Either way, they knew both parties would be penalized $5 if they failed to reach an agreement.
Both genders were more likely to choose to negotiate when their “suggested wage” was $4 less than their contribution—in other words, when they stood the most to lose from not negotiating. When they were forced to negotiate, men and women didn’t differ in their success, with both male and female workers netting a gain of about $0.66.
When given the choice, though, the female participants didn’t opt to negotiate as often as the men did. That might at first seem to support the idea that “women don’t ask” for more money or better benefits, and that’s why they don’t receive them.