Examining Asian Employees’ Likelihood of Negotiating Starting Salaries

Asian Americans are often uniformly referred to as the “model minority” due to their economic success. However, such a label may hide the fact that there can be differences in experiences among different subgroups of Asian Americans, such as East Asians (e.g., ethnic Chinese), Southeast Asians (e.g., ethnic Vietnamese), and South Asians (e.g., ethnic Indians).

For example, South Asian cultures tend to value assertiveness, whereas East and Southeast Asian cultures tend to frown upon assertiveness. This may affect a person’s willingness to engage in salary negotiation upon receiving a job offer, ultimately resulting in a lower starting salary than what one could have potentially earned. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to different experiences among subgroups of Asian employees, rather than examining the experiences of all Asian groups together.


Across two studies, the researcher (Lu, 2022) demonstrates that East and Southeast Asian employees started jobs with lower salaries compared to South Asian and White employees (after controlling for various factors, such as education). In part, this is because East and Southeast Asian employees were less likely than South Asian and White employees to negotiate their salary due to having greater concerns about causing damage to the employee-employer relationship.

That being said, engaging in negotiation did lead to higher salaries for all groups, highlighting the fact that although not everyone may choose to negotiate, everyone who does negotiate may benefit economically from doing so.

Notably, when examining only jobs in consulting, there was no salary gap between employees who were East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, or White. This is likely due to the fact that in consulting jobs, starting salaries are typically standardized and non-negotiable.


These findings have practical implications for organizations. If East Asian or Southeast Asian employees begin their careers with lower salaries than they potentially could have gotten by negotiating, this may also affect future raises and other types of compensation. Further, lower starting salaries may hurt employees who change jobs if new jobs ask about salary history. Therefore, organizations need to be aware of the potential disadvantages that East and Southeast Asian employees may have, so that they can avoid perpetuating these disadvantages. The researcher also suggests that East Asian and Southeast Asian employees may particularly stand to benefit from assertiveness training.


Lu, J. G. (2022). Asians don’t ask? Relational concerns, negotiation propensity, and starting salaries. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

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