Nice doesn't pay
Walter Isaccson’s biography of Steve Jobs reveals him to be, among other things, a nasty bully. This raises the question: does it pay to be a git?
A priori, it’s not obvious. Being unpleasant might hold you back, because it means you’ll lose networking opportunities and the chance to call in favours when you need them. But on the other hand, it gives you the ruthlessness needed to climb the greasy pole.
Luckily, research (pdf) by Guido Heineck tackles just this question. Unluckily, his findings are depressing.
He looked at the correlations between UK individuals’ earnings and “big five” personality traits, controlling for other things such as age, education, marital status and region.
And he found that being nice carries a wage penalty. Women in the top 25% of agreeableness earn an average of 11.1% less than averagely agreeable women, and the 25% of most agreeable men earn 7.8% less than average.
Note that it’s niceness that is penalized, rather than nastiness that’s rewarded; people in the bottom 25% of agreeableness earn no more than average. Heineck says this could be because “agreeable persons are possibly too passive for example in conflict situations or are poorer wage negotiators.”
The meek might inherit the earth in the next world, but they don’t get much in this.
It’s not just niceness that’s punished. So too, rather surprisingly, is conscientiousness.
As you might expect, the least conscientious quartile of people earn less than average. Being sloppy in your work costs you money. But there’s a penalty for being too conscientious. The most conscientious quartile of men earn 7.1% less than average, and the most conscientious 25% of women earn 8.7% less.
This is not because conscientious people go into routine jobs that are less well paid; these numbers control for industry and occupation. Instead, says Heineck:
A ‘too high’ standard in getting things done slows down decision processes and/or job performance which might eventually result in lower job productivity.
As the mighty Terry Allen put it: “Don’t ever do the best you can do. It’s better to be mediocre.”
Virtue, then, is not always rewarded. Whether this is a merit of capitalism or a demerit is, however, an open question.