Study Finds a Gender Gap in Negotiation Skills as Early as Age 8

Dr. McAuliffe

A new study by Katherine McAuliffe, an associate professor of neuroscience at Boston College, and Sophie H. Arnold a graduate student in psychology at New York University, finds that a gender gap in negotiation skills emerges as early as age 8. This may shed new light on the gender wage gap in the workforce.

The study of a large group of boys and girls between ages four and nine found the gap appears when girls who participated in the study were asked to negotiate with a male evaluator, a finding that mirrors the dynamics of the negotiation gap that persists between men and women in the workforce.

Children in the study completed a task and then were allowed to ask for as many stickers as they liked as a reward. Unbeknownst to them, the evaluator would always accept requests for two stickers or less, and always reject requests above that threshold. If a request was rejected, negotiations would progress to the next phase. The evaluator explained the rules of negotiation to the children and spelled out how their next sticker requests could be handled in a way that highlighted the risk and reward inherent to negotiations. For girls, the number of stickers initially requested decreased with age when the evaluator was a male. When the evaluator was female, girls requested more stickers with age. Boys, on the other hand, made requests that did not change with age or the gender of the evaluator.

“We found that — consistent with adult work — girls asked for less than boys when negotiating with a man,” said Dr. McAuliffe. “We did not see this gender gap when children were negotiating with a woman. There is still much more work to be done, but one thing this tells us is that we should be teaching young girls to advocate for themselves in the context of negotiation from as early as elementary school.”

Dr. McAuliffe is a graduate of King’s College University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She earned a master’s degree in biological anthropology at the University of Cambridge in England and a Ph.D. in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. Dr. McAuliffer joined the faculty at Boston College in 2016 after conducting postdoctoral research at Yale University.

The study, “Children Show a Gender Gap in Negotiation,” was published in the journal Psychological Science. It may be accessed here.


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