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Faculty Insights

Growth Mindset Research from WSB’s Anyi Ma Featured in Harvard Business Review

By Clare Becker

November 22, 2023

New research by Anyi Ma on the growth mindset and minimum wage was featured recently in Harvard Business Review. In a piece titled “A Growth Mindset Can Boost Support for Increasing the Minimum Wage,” Ma, an assistant professor of management and human resources at the Wisconsin School of Business, and her co-authors looked at the growth mindset in relation to minimum wage workers.

“We found that managers who believed that their employees’ intelligence can grow—versus is fixed—were more likely to want to increase compensation received by minimum wage workers,” Ma says. “This is because these managers were more likely to believe that people are in poverty due to reasons that are beyond their control or are situational in nature.”

One of the drivers of the study was the current bleak landscape for low-wage workers. “We saw that some companies, such as Costco, raised their employees’ wages beyond the minimum wage but other companies have not, and we were curious about why this is the case,” says Ma. “This is such an important question to ask, especially because some of these low wage workers were really struggling with making ends meet.”

The piece also notes that words frequently used to describe low-wage workers and their positions, such as “unskilled” or “dead-end jobs,” could likely have a negative impact on how managers perceive employee intelligence and growth potential—an idea that helped shape their hypothesis.

“Personally, I think the most compelling aspect of this research is that we were able to get managers to want to pay low-wage workers more simply by telling them that the organization that they work in believes that everyone can be more intelligent. Our effects did not depend on managers’ own beliefs about intelligence,” Ma says.

“This suggests that organizations play a powerful role in shaping support for raising wage rates for low-wage workers.”

Ma joined WSB in 2023 from Tulane University where she was an assistant professor of management.