Although women have made great strides towards equality, the gender pay gap still persists around the world.
For example, in the US, the average woman is paid 82% of what the average man earns, whether she works part or full-time.
This phenomenon can’t be explained by a single factor or theory, but psychologists believe that achievement motivation might have a useful role to play in understanding the divide.
A recent study published in Oxford Economic Papers examined the impact of personality traits on the gender wage gap.
The researchers were interested in exploring the relationship between wage rates and confidence.
Specifically, they wanted to know whether people who felt more confident in tackling challenges earned higher wages.
To assess their participants’ confidence, they measured their Achievement Motivation.
What is Achievement Motivation?
Achievement Motivation is defined by the researchers as a person’s desire to learn a new skill or complete a task to a high level.
Someone high in Achievement Motivation takes pride in developing their skills and proving their competence to themselves and others.
Previous research has shown it is actually made up of two parts:
Hope for success, and fear of failure.
In other words, people who push themselves to succeed not only want glory and accomplishment, but to avoid the feeling that they have failed to live up to their potential.
When measured together, these two components yield an overall Achievement Motivation score that represents a person’s general confidence in testing their own abilities and tackling challenges head-on.
In this study, the researchers measured differences in Achievement Motivation in men and women, and used the results in conjunction with economic data to model relationships between personality traits and wages in both sexes.
What else did the researchers measure?
Along with Achievement Motivation, they measured the so-called “Big Five” personality traits in both sexes:
Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
What were the key findings?
- Compared to women, men report a stronger hope for success and lower fear of failure.
- Men tend to be less agreeable than women.
- Women tend to be more conscientious than men.
What do these findings mean?
In summary, women have a greater fear of failure relative to men, and this may hold them back when it comes to mastering and demonstrating new skills in the workplace.
Because they find failure a terrifying prospect, they are less motivated to push their limits at work for fear of falling short. This translates to fewer promotions, less bargaining power, and lower wages.
The relationship between personality and earnings
As you may expect, conscientiousness is associated with higher productivity in the workplace.
Given that women are more conscientious – and, therefore, possibly more productive and reliable – than men, you might expect them to earn more.
However, because the average man is less agreeable than the average woman, men as a group may be more willing to put themselves and their ideas forward at work.
As a result, they are in a position to advance more quickly, and to earn higher wages.
They may not necessarily be as competent or reliable, but if they are quicker to place themselves in challenging positions, argue for promotions, and negotiate for higher salaries, they stand to earn considerably more in the long term.
How might early socializing contribute to these findings?
So, why do women have less faith in their abilities and find the thought of failing to be so uncomfortable?
The authors of the study believe that men are taught from a young age that they can and should aspire to leadership roles and occupational success.
On the other hand, women are taught that they should put others’ feelings before their own and aspire to agreeableness.
When they enter the working world, men are generally much more confident and self-assured, whereas women are more inclined to seek approval rather than strive for achievement.
How can we help women overcome their fear of failure and boost their Achievement Motivation?
By mentoring women and offering them the chance to take part in personal development programs, employers may be able to bridge the confidence gap and encourage women to take more risks at work.
At the same time, companies need to make sure that they create inclusive working environments that praise proportionate risk-taking in employees of both sexes.
For example, if a male employee is praised and rewarded for taking on a major challenge or boldly putting himself forward for a promotion, female employees should be given the same treatment.
Only by changing the way we work ,and the messages we send to men and women, can we hope to achieve true equality.