For a variety of reasons, women are not as good at negotiating as men. For one thing, we’re not as practiced at it. Several studies have shown that women tend to negotiate less often, in part because the assertiveness required for the task gets socialized out of us. After all, nice girls aren’t supposed to cause conflict, and there are real-world implications for those who buck the rules. In one study, both men and women pronounced female job applicants less hirable when they asked for more compensation than when male applicants did the same thing. (Male subjects in particular were less likely to want to work with women who tried to negotiate.) So it’s not surprising that negotiating causes women more anxiety than it causes men and that women are less likely to realize they can negotiate in a given situation. You have to do all sorts of tricky things to get them to haggle, like describe it as “asking” instead of “negotiating” or explicitly tell them that they’re allowed to do it. It’s no wonder that women were said to flock to the defunct car company Saturn, which was known for its no-haggle policy.
Part of what’s so crazy about buying a car the traditional way is that the Wild West pricing means there’s no way to know whether the deck is stacked against you from the outset merely because you’re a woman. Studies conducted in the ’90s by economist Ian Ayres showed that Chicago-area dealerships routinely quoted blacks and women higher initial offers than white men, so that even after haggling they wound up with higher prices. Data from auto repair shops shows something more nuanced: Women are quoted higher prices unless they break gender stereotypes, either by showing they know the market rate for a repair or by insisting on a discount. All of which is why, when women buy a car, we first research the bejesus out of it. We know that certain salesmen will be inclined to treat us as easy marks, and we’ll need to defy their expectations. So we prep and prep and then show up, hoping we don’t get a jerk. Sure, we can request a different salesman or hit another dealership, but we’ll pay for it in wasted time.