"Nice guys finish last." It's the perennial post-hoc rationalization for the ruthless and palliative aphorism for the broken-hearted. But is the old saying true? If size (of your financial statement) matters, then the answer just may be yes.
Personality researchers at Notre Dame, Cornell University, and the University of Western Ontario conducted a series of studies examining how the personality trait of agreeableness is related to levels of income for men and women.
Agreeableness is one of the "Big Five" trait variables that researchers commonly use to classify and describe human personality. The other trait factors are openness to experience, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. Agreeable individuals describe themselves as cooperative, non-argumentative, trusting and trustworthy.
Researchers obtained data on personality traits, demographics, income, and occupational factors from thousands of people across multiple samples. As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors found that there was a consistent link between higher agreeableness and lower income for men (while a similar effect was seen for women, the differences in incomes were much less and in most cases smaller than would be expected due to chance variations).
One limitation to the studies is that subjects self-reported their levels of agreeableness (just because someone says they're agreeable doesn't mean it's so), but the findings were consistent and robust across samples. For every standard deviation difference in level of agreeableness (roughly .75 points on a 5 or 6 point measurement scale), men reported almost $10,000 less earnings per year. This difference emerged despite the fact that agreeable men were less likely to be fired and not less likely to be in supervisory positions or unemployed.
Furthermore, in an experimental set-up with participants role-playing as human resource managers for a big company, fictional job candidates were less likely to be recommended for fast-track management positions if they were described as agreeable, compliant, trusting, and straightforward.
Things aren't all bad for the Agreeable Andys and Nice Guy Neds out there, though. Agreeable individuals tend to be more relationship focused, more helpful and altruistic, and less likely to be angry and aggressive. They're also better liked by their peers. But an open heart and an easygoing attitude doesn't have to mean an empty wallet and a barren bank account. Just remember that when it comes to salary negotiations and tough transactions, "No more Mr. Nice Guy" might be the best mantra.
By Jared DeFife, Ph.D.
© January 13, 2012 (article link: http://tinyurl.com/7llw793)
For more information about research, speaking, and Atlanta-based psychotherapy practice, visit www.jareddefife.com
Citation: Judge, T. A., Livingston, B. A., & Hurst, C. (2011, November 28). Do nice guys-and gals-really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 390-407. doi: 10.1037/a0026021