How Gender and Personality Contribute to the Wage Gap

Topic(s): compensation, personality
Publication: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2012)
Article: Do nice guys-and gals-really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income
Authors: Timothy A. Judge, Beth A. Livingston, & Charlice Hurst
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Do you have a soft heart, take an interest in the well-being of others, or have a tendency to sympathize with the hardships of your friends? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it could be adversely affecting your income. It turns out that the old expression “nice guys finish last” may have some truth to it.

Through a series of four studies, Timothy Judge of Notre Dame, Beth Livingston of Cornell, & Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario found that agreeable individuals and women had lower incomes than disagreeable individuals and men. This relationship between agreeableness and wages was more pronounced among men. Evidence further supported that there is social backlash against agreeable men. Disagreeable men had greater incomes than agreeable men, and highly agreeable men suffered even more.

When it came to women, the income discrepancy between disagreeable and agreeable individuals was smaller. It appears that gender is the primary factor affecting women, with agreeableness being merely another dynamic in the well-documented wage gap that currently exists between the salaries of men and women.

However, don’t take these results as carte blanche for rudeness at the office. It is important to note that further research will be needed to determine exactly why this connection between disagreeableness and higher wages occurs. One possibility is that less agreeable individuals are simply more able to pursue career opportunities, due to having fewer social or familial ties. Until then, we will simply have to gather more data and keep our eyes open for unexpected or unjustified inequities of opportunity and salary.