Keep Getting Raises Long After the Dreaded 37

Alden Wicker

Apparently some things don’t improve with age.

According to a study by, women tend to top out their compensation at age 37, while men keep getting raises until age 45. Even more infuriating, while men’s salaries in the study rose to an average of $95,000, women’s plateaued at just $61,000.

The good-ish news? There is one swath of women who outearn men: Single women under 30 who live in large cities tend to make more than their male peers, but after this brief halcyon period (which doesn’t apply in rural areas or to women with children anyway), we tend to lose ground.

How to Score a Higher Salary

Experts point to two key causes: family obligations and the fact that women tend not to pursue fair compensation as aggressively as men. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

How You Can Earn More

Whether you’re a 23-year-old city girl or a 45-year-old mom in a small town, it’s time to look at what you make with a critical eye. We want you to get all you deserve and more—until the year you decide to retire.

Ask yourself these key questions, which well help you buck this frustrating trend:

1. Did you negotiate your entry salary?

“It is absolutely critical to negotiate your best offer on your way into a company,” says Lynne Sarikas, Director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University. “This becomes your starting point for future increases and is the base for any bonuses.” Think of it this way: If you accept the first offer you get, each pay increase after that will be lower because of that first few thousand you left on the table.

If you realize you’ve made this mistake after it’s too late, go into your next job ready to recoup the loss. Or, as Lauren Lyons Cole, a certified financial planner in the LearnVest Ask an Expert center says: The six-month mark is a great time to negotiate a raise. Keep a list of your accomplishments from day one and how they’ve helped the company.

2. How is your performance measured?

In this study, the compensation gap between men and women was biggest in jobs where performance was evaluated more subjectively than objectively. In other words, when you’re measured on the metrics, as opposed to how competent your boss perceives you to be (which could be influenced by your gender), the gap between what women and men make narrows.

The fix: Boost your bottom line by showcasing your accomplishments—in digits. “To outweigh hidden biases, show something that resonates with the bottom line,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach and co-founder of Six-Figure Start. In other words, don’t say: “I’m a team player.” Instead, try: “My team has doubled its profits because of my project management skills.”

When it comes time to talk about a raise, ask how you’ll be evaluated: “If you’re boss says, ‘I don’t really know,’ push back and ask for specific measures,” advises Roberta Chinsky Matuson, job search mentor and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around

3. Do you grab opportunities?

“You have to participate in high-profile projects,” says Matuson. “All too often, women settle for whatever they’re handed, when the risk-takers are the ones who are more highly compensated.” So don’t by shy about raising your hand for projects that need a leader, and approach your boss with your own pet projects likely to benefit the company at large.

4. Do you know your worth?

If you go into a salary meeting with vague notions of how much more you should be making, you’ll walk out disappointed. “The best approach is to have data,” says Sarikas. She suggests using or, two websites that share information about typical salaries in your field and at your specific level. Or you can leverage your network by contacting friends, friends of friends, or former colleagues to ask them what they know about similar positions in their own companies. But, she cautions, “Don’t ask colleagues to share salary data. It’s not appropriate.”

5. Have you contributed to the bottom line or saved the company money?

“The best time to ask for a raise is after you’ve completed a successful project or if you’ve increased the company’s revenue,” says Matuson. “Focus on how you are contributing to the organization, and have specific examples of how you’ve done that over the past year.”

6. What kind of hours do you work?

A factor that the study did not control for was hours worked, which plays a large role in women’s happiness, if not their take-home pay. One new study finds that women are unhappier than men with their work-life balance, and another indicates that women are likelier to sacrifice their careers to have time to achieve personal goals. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Women may feel that they can’t ask for time off, flexibility or travel accommodations and a raise,” says Ceniza-Levine. “They fail to see that these are separate considerations, and while you may not want to ask for a laundry list in any one meeting, these things can be ticked off one or two at a time.”

Make More Money—Now!

Learn the best ways to negotiate a raise

7. Did you take time off to start a family?

It’s unfair but true: When it comes to starting a family, women bear the brunt of the career penalties. So while in a perfect world you could sail back in after a couple of years off, it’s to your advantage to keep up with your industry, even from afar. “During your family leave, if you stay current with the news, software programs or whatever is related to your career, you can come back in with a higher salary than those who let that lag,” says Ceniza-Levine.

Also, ask to see whether there are possibilities outside of an either/or arrangement: “Maybe work one or two days a week so you maintain your salary level,” Matuson says. “If you are a valuable employee, the company will do whatever it can to accommodate your schedule.” You can also try to work from home or move to a consulting or freelancing position until you’re ready to get back into the game.

8. Are you in the $100,000+ range?

Kudos to you if you’re on a career path to (or already in) the big leagues. But be aware that the higher up in the hierarchy you rise, the more likely your salary is to diverge from male counterparts, according to this study. The differences become more and more apparent above $100,000, where women earn 87% of what men earn. When the stakes are this high, Matuson says: “Know your worth. Check with headhunters to see what the going rate is for the position you are in. Be prepared to change jobs and possibly relocate when a good opportunity comes your way.”

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, the gender gap does still exist (you can read more about that here), but remember that this frustrating gap is statistical, not a hard-and-fast rule. If you’re aware of the factors working against you, ask yourself the questions above. You can become the exception—with an exceptional salary.

  • Sr. Contracts Manager

    not sure if this article is accurate because I received more raises passed the age of 40 and still receiving good ones at 49!

  • Anonymous

    LEARNVEST- Not everyone who reads your column is in their 20′s?  how about some LearnVest for us old ladies over 50?

    • Mudlj

      It is funny how youth orientated our culture is.  I am a very old lady in my profession tho if I were male, would be considered experienced, youthful, and robust. 
      I was very fortunate to move and get a very sizeable salary increase.  However, the best advice in the article is to negotiate well from the start.  And it is not just salary, but guarantees, bonuses, insurance and perks, moving expenses.  All of the expenses add up.

      One of the best workshops I attended demonstrated how “small’ salary differences make an incredible difference in retirement contributions.  And women, you pay the same college tuition, rent, car payments, WHY DON”T WE GET THE SAME SALARY.  Be your own advocate. 

      • JackieA

        I love what you wrote and have always said that I paid the same tuition for my daughters to go to college as you did for your sons–we received no break to educated females!

  • Susan Bewley

    I think the article should have focused on the main reason women are passed up for raises  – we don’t negotiate.  We are always afraid of making a mistake by being too aggressive or being considered the dreaded -b- word.  In reality, men are viewed as more aggressive and go getters.  We can change this, but it goes against some of our natures.

  • Le Fric c’est chic

    Basically put: women don’t ask, while men do. 

  • Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee

    A great book by the title “Women Don’t Ask” delved into the deeply rooted social reasons as to why women tend not to ask or to initiate negotiation as much as men.  Studies have found that men tend to ask to negotiate as four times as often as women. 

    Starting from a young age, women are taught to be more relationship-oriented, and our identities become more rooted in the relationships we maintain.  Women, in general, don’t ask (as often as men) for raises, promotions, or to get their worth in the workplace, because we fear risking professional relationships by asking, or asserting our value.  

    Another reason is that men tend to have a more internal locus of control, meaning they tend to see themselves more in control of their lives, than women.  Historically speaking, it’s only in the very recent past that women gained control over our bodies, lives, and careers.  In some ways, we’re still on the learning curve to gain a more internal locus of control, rather than an external one, where outside forces are in control. 

    That said, I think initiating conversations around salary negotiation with the successful women in our networks is a crucial step to learn to negotiate.  This is why I’ve decided to organize and moderate a panel discussion on this topic.  Check here for details:

    • Jane

      My mother recommended that book to me, and it has helped tremendously.  I was able to successfully negotiate my salary when I started my new job in July, and I keep on top of what people in my field are making, so I’m ready to negotiate when my first review occurs.  It’s always good to be assertive…you are your best advocate!

  • Jamie Nolan

    Ooo yeah I feel like if I negotiate that I will seem ungrateful for my job. I am an otherwise assertive woman but I don’t feel comfortable discussing money. I’d also like to negotiate for one telework day a week, but I’m nervous about it.

    • Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee

      If you’re in NY area, come join Wimlink to discuss successful negotiation strategies with professional women!  The event will be on Thursday, Oct 13. 

  • michele

    Actually, almost no one is getting a raise anymore, except if you’re a CEO.

    • Sara

      My salary has raised 46% in the same company over the past two years – all because I kept asking. I’m 31 and not near the CEO position.

  • JackieA

    All this negotiating might work “at the top” but, like me, if you are in public service jobs–I work for city government–everyone gets a raise or no one gets a raise.  There is no “Pay for Performance.”  I think my city was too afraid of being sued.  So when I hear about what to do to get noticed, etc., I only laugh.  I can get a “thanks” or a “well done” but it means absolutely nothing salary-wise. 

  • Jennifer

    I’m always amazed by how many women simply don’t ASK for a raise.  That might sound like an old story, but among my clients it’s still an issue.  Come on, Ladies!  Don’t wait to be handed what you deserve.  Speak up!  Ask for what you’re worth!

  • Jennifer

    We women have to stop worrying so much about what others will think of us.  Too many women are afraid to ask for a raise because it will make them appear _____ (you fill in the blank).  Stop the people pleasing and ask for what you’re worth!