Researchers for the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) surveyed some 10,000 employees across the country to find out whether they considered their salaries fair.
They were shocked by the results, according to daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, which published a first look at the study on Tuesday.
“The income that women believe is fair for themselves lies below the income men actually receive,” DIW researcher Jürgen Schupp told the paper.
The female diffidence showed itself across a wide range of professions, from unskilled workers to academics, the study found.
The results also showed that the impression that women's work is worth less than that of men is clearly held throughout German society – among men, women, employees and employers, the paper added.
But this contradicted another opinion from the majority of respondents – that sex should not be a factor in determining salary. Only a few were aware that this abstract principle went against their concrete answers to the contrary, though.
The German belief that women deserve a smaller paycheque extended to even imaginary scenarios. In a related survey also conducted by the DIW, for example, respondents were asked to judge a fair salary for an ambitious 55-year-old doctor with four children. Regardless of their own sex, participants on average said that €7,750 would be a fair gross monthly wage for a male, but just €7,300 would do for a female.
“Women themselves are of the opinion that women should earn less at work,” Schupp told the paper, which added that the results could be politically explosive in the face of the popular opinion that discrimination by companies is responsible for the wage gap.
But the study authors warned that their results should not be misconstrued to blame women for earning less than men. Schupp told the paper that women could not bridge the gap through individual efforts alone.
“Greater transparency over salaries is necessary so that sex-specific differences would be easier to identify,” he said.