Nice Guys Earn Less

By Stephanie Berenbaum

Say It Ain’t So: Nice Guys Finish Last?

Is your husband or boyfriend known as the “nice guy” at work? You might be disheartened to hear that while your honey might be well-liked by his colleagues, his earnings probably aren’t as high as his less agreeable peers!

These findings come from a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, entitled “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last?” And it comes to the sobering conclusion that, “Niceness—in the form of the trait of agreeableness—does not appear to pay.”  Ouch!

Challenging Traditional Gender Roles

One of the most interesting focuses of the study is about gender roles – and expectations – in the workplace.  Because, of course, I was wondering – do nice guys and girls both finish last? According to the authors, a lot of what’s tied into behavior and compensation is related to gender expectations.

Role Playing

Women are stereotypically seen as being more agreeable and men as, well, less so.  Which is why, as so many of us have experienced first hand, a strong-willed woman is often labeled as a “bitch,” while a similarly tempered man is seen as “strong.”  According to the authors, both men and women may “encounter backlash when they do not conform to stereotyped expectations.”  And yes, we’re talking 2011 reality, not a storyline for Mad Men! 

Agree To Disagree

The research found that, especially in workplaces where aggressivenesss is valued (I am thinking back to my days as a stockbroker!) that “disagreeable behaviors… seem to signal ability and promise.”  After years working in male-dominated finance, believe me, I have witnessed this phenomenon many, many times!

Mean Girls

And don’t think this study means you ladies should go out there and do your best “Mommy Dearest” impersonation in the hopes of getting a raise. The disagreeableness only really helps you out when it coincides with your gender expectation – ie – if you are a man! Which is why the researchers conclude they found “strong evidence that men earn a substantial premium for being disagreeable while the same behavior has little effect on women’s income.”

Battle for Income Equality

With the stock market and global economy in turmoil, I wish I had some great news to share with you.  But, alas, there is still a pay gap between what men and women earn for the same work – no matter how nice or mean you are!  The real message here, concludes the researchers, is that the decision makers at companies need to be more aware of their own expectations, and try to be more honest with themselves about stereotypes they hold…Until then, realize that the only way to really change a person’s opinion of yourself is to exceed their expectations and prove their ridiculous misconceptions about women in the workplace wrong!

Would you describe your at-work personality as rigid and stern OR service with a smile?


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2 Responses to “Nice Guys Earn Less”

  1. Tasha says:

    As much as I hate to hear/read this, I totally experience this in my business. All I want to do is business with a smile, however sometimes that attitude reflects that i am not serious, or that I have extremely high expectations.

    It is about leading with a firm graceful hand, something I’ve yet to master.

  2. Joannie says:

    We as women have made progess in the last few decades, but men still reign!!!! Here is the dilema, women want to be treated like women by men ex. open the door, pay for the first date etc, yet they want to be equal in other stiuations. We want it all…..and of course we should have it!!! I think it is all to confusing for men.

Any Thoughts?