Study: 'Nice Guys' Earn Less, but Women Finish Last

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that “nice guys” generally earn less than men who are considered to be less-agreeable.

The title of the study, written by Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame, Beth A. Livingston of Cornell University, and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, asks the question, “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.”

The authors utilize four different studies to examine the impact that a person's tendency to agree with others has on that person's income. The results, they found, are that “nice guys do not necessarily finish last, but they do finish a distant second in terms of earnings.”

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This finding, they write, is puzzling considering the business world's increasing emphasis on teams. With such an emphasis one would expect that those who are more agreeable would do better in such an environment.

In spite of the results, the authors don't suggest that people go out and become entirely difficult to work with either. Those who were considered to be “low in agreeableness” were generally friendly people, were not entirely antisocial, but were more likely to pick their battles or the causes for which they would contend for.

Being somewhat disagreeable can be beneficial to men, and though the same is true for women as well, it is true to a lesser extent. Disagreeable women tend to earn more than agreeable women, but they also have the gender issue to contend with.

“Yet, seen from the perspective of gender equity,” the authors wrote, “even the nice guys seem to be making out quite well relative to either agreeable or disagreeable women.”

So the gender gap remains. One thing they suggest as a possible explanation for these findings has to do with the varying social norms that dictate what is considered to be normal behavior for both men and women. So tackling the wage gap between men and women is not as much an issue of how women behave, they suggest, but more so an issue of changing the business world's perception of how women should behave.

It should be noted that the authors of the study do not suggest that nice guys and gals should go out and start making the lives of their coworkers difficult just to get ahead. Instead, they suggest that agreeable people should simply be more assertive in certain situations where being disagreeable could be helpful (in contract negotiations, for example).

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