Nice guys do finish last – and they earn less

Richard Hall
Monday 05 December 2011 11:00 GMT

It is a phrase that millions of good-natured people around the world will consider so demonstrably obvious that it hardly deserves to be questioned. Nonetheless, a team of business experts claim to have proven the pessimistic notion that "nice guys finish last" – at least where money is concerned. A new study has discovered that a person's "agreeableness" has a negative effect on their earnings. "Niceness" – according to the research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – does not appear to pay.

"This issue isn't really about whether people are nasty or nice," according to Richard Newton, business author and consultant. "A better way of putting it might be a willingness to fight your corner." While agreeable traits such as compliance, modesty and altruism may seem conducive to a good working atmosphere, the study found that managers are more likely to fast-track for promotion and pay-rise "disagreeable" people – defined as those who are more likely to "aggressively advocate for their position during conflict".

The study "Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last?" by Beth A. Livingston of Cornell University, Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, used data on 9,000 people who entered the labour force in the past decade. The subjects were interviewed about their careers and given personality tests to determine their agreeableness, which were then measured with income data.

The findings are bad news for nice guys, but worse still for women of all temperaments. They show that regardless of their levels of agreeableness, women earned nearly 14 per cent less than men. Agreeable men, meanwhile, earned an average of $7,000 (£4,490) less than their disagreeable peers.

"Nice guys do finish a distant second in terms of earnings," the study noted. "Our research provides strong evidence that men earn a substantial premium for being disagreeable while the same behaviour has little effect on women's income."

Reasons offered include a better success rate for disagreeable types when negotiating pay rises.

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