Hey jerkface! What? You don't like my tone? I'm just trying to increase my income, so don't hate.
Research presented during the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in San Antonio, Aug. 14-16, finds that agreeable workers have considerably lower incomes than less agreeable ones, and that the gap is especially wide among men. Nice women may not earn quite as much as less-nice women, but, when it comes to men, disagreeable men simply leave agreeable ones in the dust.
"Nice guys do not necessarily finish last, but they do finish a distant second in terms of earnings," said the study's authors, Beth A. Livingston of Cornell University, Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario. They find that "men who are one standard deviation [roughly 20 percentage points] below the mean on agreeableness earn an average of 18.31 percent (US$9,772) more than men one standard deviation above the mean on agreeableness. Meanwhile, the 'disagreeableness premium' for women was only 5.47 percent ($1,828). Thus, the income premium for disagreeableness is more than three times stronger for men than for women."
The professors concede the finding to be a bit puzzling.
"Given the increasing reliance of organizations on teams, it would seem that people high in agreeableness would have at least a slight economic advantage over those low in agreeableness," the wrote.
Why, then, have scholars not "offered more than a minimal explanation" for its absence? To a significant extent, the study suggests, because they have not fully appreciated the powerful effect of masculine stereotypes on men's earnings.
"Disagreeable men reap a double benefit," the professors write. "Their disagreeableness helps them better translate their human capital into earnings advantage, and the same behavior conforms to expectations of 'masculine' behavior."
By the same token "agreeable men are disproportionately disadvantaged" because their agreeableness "conflicts with social norms of masculinity."
Not that this anomaly provides an opportunity for women to greatly close the earnings gap between the sexes.
"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 professors wrote. "Thus, exhortations for women not to be nice might be overblown. Nice girls might not get rich, but 'mean' girls do not do much better. Even controlling for human capital, marital status and occupation, highly disagreeable women do not earn as much as highly agreeable men."
Since men are most affected by the business world's continuing prejudice against agreeableness, how should they respond to the study?
"Certainly nice guys should forswear any wholesale personality makeover, even if such a thing is possible," Livingston said. "What would obviously make sense is to maintain their good nature without compromising their self-interest. For example, suppose they contribute significantly to the success of a project. Agreeable people sometimes have a tendency to hide their light under a bushel. But there are ways to make sure that one's contribution is recognized without being disagreeable about it.
"In the end, agreeable folks may make less money than they deserve, but even disagreeable people know that money isn't everything," she continued. "Leo Durocher could certainly be disagreeable, but even he insisted he didn't really mean that nice guys always finish last."
Okay, then. Sorry about saying jerkface. You're actually a really nice person!
(Story materials provided by the Academy of Management.)