How much should you pay research participants?

George Denison
|October 24, 2023

When you’re developing a study, it’s important to choose the right reward for your participants. Fair pay and clear instructions can make a huge impact on the quality of data your participants provide. Before hiring candidates, you need to consider pay carefully.

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know, including:

  • The importance of fair pay to ethics and data quality
  • How to work out the right pay for your participants

Why fair pay for research participants is important


All participants must be safe, well-informed, and treated fairly, in line with ethical principles. This includes providing suitable pay to participants for their time and effort.

Sadly, the reality is that online research participants don’t always get the compensation they deserve. The Fairwork Cloudwork Report 2022 assessed many cloudwork platforms, including research platforms. They found that many platforms don’t offer suitable pay, clear contracts, or fair conditions.

Data quality

As well as the ethical considerations, fair pay also benefits data quality. Well-compensated participants will have more motivation to provide honest, meaningful answers.

In 2017, Lovett et al. conducted a study on the most experienced workers of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. The findings shed light on the importance of proper remuneration. The workers' main motivator to create high quality data was compensation.

The participants agreed that the quality of the data they provided varied depending on how fair they felt the study was. For studies that provided clear instructions and fair pay, participants “were attentive, gave their best efforts, and produced quality data.” They were also more likely to provide poor quality data if they felt the payment was poor or the details were misleading.

How much should you pay research participants?

You can’t afford to underpay your participants. Your ethical integrity and data quality depend on it. But how much is enough?

At Prolific, we have our own ethical payment principles. We implement a minimum hourly reward of £6/$8 to ensure all participants are paid fairly.

However, as mentioned above, higher payments can impact data quality. So, we recommend paying participants at least £9/$12 per hour. This also ensures your study meets ethical standards.

Before you decide on how much to pay research participants, there are some key factors you’ll need to consider...

Check reimbursement guidelines

Many institutions will have their own guidelines for how much you can pay participants. This will usually include a minimum hourly rate, as well as a maximum rate to avoid coercion. If your institution has no specific guidelines, you can also use the national minimum wage as a guide.

How much effort will your study take?

You should also consider the tasks your study involves. Do they require a lot of effort from the participants? An easy-to-use online survey will not usually require much effort from a participant. However, especially in the case of qualitative studies, other forms of data may be required. For example, you might need participants to create a video or audio recording, or keep a diary over several days. Tasks that require more effort from participants should also pay more.

How niche is your population?

Do you need a sample from a particular population for your study? For example, you might need participants from a very specific group, such as middle-aged American women. If this is the case, you should ensure you offer suitable payment. Paying well for research makes it easier to recruit from niche populations. The same is true for participants with well-paid jobs.

How to calculate participant payment costs

Once you’ve considered the factors above, it’s time to calculate your reward.

To make things easier, use this online calculator. You can work out your reward in just a few simple steps:

  • Select whether the study is for a company or for academic/non-profit purposes.
  • Type the number of participants you need.
  • Select a study distribution. Please note that for a US or UK representative sample, you’ll need a minimum of 300 participants (and a maximum 1,500 or 2,000 participants respectively).
  • Type in the amount of time needed to complete your study.
  • Type in the participant payment. You can also move the amount up or down using the arrows on the right side of the bar. There's also the option to select between USD and GBP.
  • Type in the participant payment. You can also move the amount up or down using the arrows on the right side of the bar. There's also the option to select between USD and GBP.

As you increase or decrease the payment amount, you’ll see the “Hourly rate” bar moving up or down. This show where your rate falls in relation to Prolific’s minimum hourly rate and tell you if your hourly reimbursement is “low”, “good”, or “great”. This handy reference can help you to see at a glance whether you need to boost your participant payments.

Ethical research with vetted participants

Fair pay for research participants has a whole host of benefits. It helps your study to meet ethical standards - and potentially means better quality data for you. Providing fair pay gives your participants more motivation to be attentive, honest, and comprehensive with their answers. Plus, it means participants are fairly compensated for their time and effort. That makes fair pay a win-win for both researchers and participants.

At Prolific, we recognize the importance of ethical research. That’s why we received the highest score for work standards in Fairwork’s Cloudwork Ratings for 2022. We make ethical research easy with clear contracts and a minimum hourly rate for participants.

Ready to find high-quality research participants for your study? Get started with Prolific today.