Do People Who Ask for Raises Actually Get Them?

Less than half of workers request higher salaries—and less than half of those requests are successful.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

For young professionals, when and how to ask for a raise is a source of constant conversation. And that makes sense—after all, salary growth should accelerate as resumes and careers grow. However, these conversations are often awkward, for a variety of reasons.

First, some people are uncomfortable talking about money among friends, and yet there's still a human temptation to benchmark earnings against those of one's peers. In particular, it's useful for friends (or possibly, colleagues) in the same industry to share information about pay at different companies. (Thankfully, there are websites like Glassdoor, which boasts over three million salary profiles from anonymous employees.) Secondly, the people who have advice on how to get that raise are usually people making more money than the person seeking help—good resources to have, if they'll share their secrets. And lastly, some are so shy about raises they won't even talk to their employers about them.

A recent study by Payscale surveyed over 30,000 workers about their experiences asking for a raise. They found that 43 percent had asked for one, but only 44 percent of those who asked got the amount they wanted, with 25 percent not getting a raise at all. Among the 57 percent who didn't ask for a raise, the top reasons were that they got a raise without asking (38 percent) or that they would be uncomfortable asking (28 percent). Only eight percent reported that they were satisfied with their salary. Those surveyed who didn't ask for a raise tended to be at the lower end of the income spectrum, working in the service or public sectors.

Who Asked For a Raise?

Compared to other workers, CEOs were the most likely to get a raise. That might be because the cost of replacing an employee is about 20 percent of a position's annual salary—so companies have to expend more resources to replace senior employees than junior ones.

And despite stereotypes, Payscale's survey did not find much of a gender gap in asking for raises (44 percent of men asked, versus 42 percent of women). Though for M.B.A. holders, Payscale found that 63 percent of male M.B.A. grads had requested raises, while only 48 percent of female M.B.A. grads did. There was another gap, in that female M.B.A. grads who asked were denied 21 percent of the time, while the rate for male M.B.A.s denied raises after requesting one was 10 percent.

Wages in the U.S. are stagnant, and The New York Times predicts that one of the biggest economic questions of 2015 will be whether America will get a raise. As union membership shrinks and the flexible-work economy grows, it seems that Americans will only fixate harder on how (and by how much) they can boost their incomes—though it remains to be seen whether that fixation will translate into more people actually asking.