Most of us discovered pretty early that life isn’t always fair, but
that doesn’t mean the reality of injustice can’t surprise you again and
again. Take a new study on pay and personality, for example. It reveals that "agreeable men,” or nice guys in everyday language, earn 18 percent less than jerks.
Using three different, large data sets, researchers from Cornell, Notre Dame and Western Ontario compared the earning of people who rated themselves as more or less agreeable. What makes a person agreeable? Study co-author Beth Livingston recently explained the quality to NPR :
Agreeableness is a complex personality trait and it
really encompasses people who are kinder, more trusting, more
cooperative. And those who are more disagreeable tend to be more
competitive, arrogant, manipulative and they tend to value their
relationships less than those who are agreeable.
The analysis revealed that despite general agreement that working with jerks is painful and demoralizing ,
arrogant and overbearing men still get paid more — 18 percent or $9,772
more to be exact. The difference in pay for more and less agreeable
women was much smaller, just 5 percent or $1,828.
"Nice guys do not necessarily finish last, but they do finish a
distant second in terms of earnings. Yet, seen from the perspective of
gender equity, even the nice guys seem to be making out quite well
relative to either agreeable or disagreeable women,” the study
So what’s behind this impulse to pay aggressive men more? Livingston
explained that she believes our changing conception of capitalism might
be to blame:
I think that, in capitalism, there’s the idea that the
competitive, harsh, blunt person wins. They’re the ones who can close
the deal and they can be uncompromising. And I’ve seen this develop
quite substantially, I would say, over the past 20 years since I’ve
been working on Wall Street.
In the early days, you would see people try to build
consensus, but now, you find that people say, it’s either my way or no
way. This is the deal I want. Take it or leave it. And they walk away
from the table…. The final study that we did was fascinating, in that we
used college students who tend to be more egalitarian at this time in
their lives, than, kind of, older workers. And we found that, as long
as we described a worker as being less trusting and more arrogant, they
tended to say those people needed to be the managers and the other
people didn’t, and it was fascinating.
Our idea of business as all out war requiring uncompromising
toughness might account for the pay gap between jerks and the rest of
us, but does the study suggest that we should all nurture our office meanie to get ahead ? For women obviously there’s not much payoff in upping your aggressiveness, but even for men coming across as the office jerk may eventually cost you more that its worth — at least if you value your mental health as well as your net worth.
"Agreeable people tend to be more satisfied with their lives and have
a higher quality of their relationships,” Livingston says. "And I
think that, in our society, sometimes we think about money trumping
all, especially in this time of, really, economic crisis.” That’s
usually a mistake both for managers rewarding aggression with higher pay
and for those struggling to get ahead at work.