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Disagreeable men earn more, says study

Updated: November 9, 2011 1:51PM

At work, it pays to be a jerk — literally.

A paper co-authored by a University of Notre Dame professor shows that moderately disagreeable men earn an average of 18 percent, or $9,772, more than the average of moderately agreeable men.

Both groups of men, though, earn more than the average salary for women — regardless of their workplace disposition. And while women are still lagging behind men in pay, disagreeable women earned 5 percent, or $1,828, over their more pleasant peers.

“I don’t think anyone would look at that and think that’s fair, that’s OK,” said Timothy Judge, a Notre Dame management professor and paper’s author. “Our job is not to describe the ideal world but the world as it is.”

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Do Nice Guys — and Gals — Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income,” was written by Judge, Cornell University’s Beth Livingston and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario.

“Nice guys do not necessarily finish last, but they do finish a distant second in terms of earnings,” the paper says. “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.”

Judge said he was inspired to research the wage difference between agreeable and disagreeable men and women by a few famous faces, including Martha Stewart’s.

“I had done a few studies on the gender wage gape but the real thing that made me think of it was the Martha Stewart trial when she was prosecuted for making false statements,” Judge said. “This was a couple years after Bill Clinton did the same thing. She went to jail and he didn’t.”

Hillary Clinton also made him wonder how people’s personality and gender played out in their careers.

“I think she is a disagreeable person, but the passion that it arouses, it is amazing compared to disagreeable male leaders,” he said.

The researchers used interviews with thousands of people in different stages of their careers to come to the conclusion that “ ‘niceness’ — in the form of the trait of agreeableness — does not appear to pay.”

It’s not all bad news for pleasant people. Agreeable people are more likely to value and maintain interpersonal relationships, be social, are more helpful and cooperative and are better liked by their peers, the study says.

But you can’t take that to the bank. Judge said he is interested in further researching if agreeable people take a pay hit because they are less assertive in salary negotiations or because employers are biased against them.

Most people who are classified as disagreeable in the study may in fact be mostly amicable. Highly disagreeable people “may be associated with psychopathy,” however.

“Most disagreeable individuals are unlikely to suffer from clinical psychological disorders, and as evident in the myriad acts of corporate malfeasance . . . antisocial behaviors do not preclude earning higher incomes,” the paper says.

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