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May 15 2018

Study: Nice Guys Earn Less than Mean Guys

by Charlotte Hays

It should come as no surprise that earnings are affected by the earner's personality.

But Miriam Gensowski, an assistant economics professor at the University of Copenhagen, has explored the question of just how personality and earnings relate to each other and reported some very interesting findings  in the Harvard Business Review.

The news is not good for men who pride themselves on being kind and congenial.

Business Insider sums up Gensowski's findings this way: Nice guys don't do as well at work as mean guys.

The mean-guy/ nice- guy earnings dichotomy doesn't kick in immediately in a man's working life:

Results showed that more agreeable — i.e. nicer and friendlier — men earned significantly less than other men. This isn't typically true for young workers — the effect is only visible once men turn 30, and it's strongest between ages 40 and 60.

But the earnings gap between the nice and not so nice is significant:

As Gensowski writes in HBR, a man who is in the top 20% of agreeableness will earn about $270,000 less over their lifetime than the average working man.

It is good to know that a nice guy can up his earnings through cultivating other welcome traits:

Two other traits that stood out in Gensowski's research are extroversion and conscientiousness, or being organized and hardworking. Men who score high on both traits tend to reap higher salaries: She writes in HBR that a man who is average on extroversion will earn $600,000 more in his lifetime than a man who is in the bottom 20% of extroversion.

Gensowski also notes that the effects of personality are strongest in highly educated men. Being conscientious, extroverted, and disagreeable makes much more of a difference for a man with a master's degree or a doctorate than it does for a man with a bachelor's.

Gensowski's work relied on the Terman study, which followed the development of people with gifted IQs. The Terman study started in the 1920s, when many women did not enter the workforce. The study thus focuses on men and salaries.  

Gensowski is not the first researcher to suggest that nice guys finish last.

[A] 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology also found that agreeable men tend to earn less than their peers, and that this effect is virtually nonexistent for women. (From that study: "For men, it literally pays to be a contrarian.")

Other data suggests that agreeable people — especially agreeable men — are less likely to hold leadership positions. Meanwhile, those who display both conscientiousness and extroversion are more likely to become leaders.

In his 2013 book "Habits of Leadership," psychologist Art Markman suggests that employees appreciate a boss who can give frank feedback — and agreeable people may have a hard time providing criticism.

But the news isn't all bad for agreeable people:

One interesting caveat to this research: As Markman writes in "Habits of Leadership," disagreeable people tend to be more likely to lose their jobs and to be less well-liked than agreeable people.

Presumably, the salaries of women,as with the salaries of men, are also affected by our individual personalities.

We await a study on this. Some have suggested that women bring a different set of skills to the workplace, including having more people skills. These are valuable skills and it would be helpful to know how such skills are rewarded financially.

We have long maintained at IWF that much of the gender wage gap, which is not as large as advocates of big government claim, is the result not of discrimination but of the choices women make.

We have long advocated women learning more about salary negotiating skills, and, if personality is key to earnings, such skills would beof paramount importance in obtaining higher salaries (though of course, we don't want either women or men to be encouraged to be mean!).

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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