It pays to be a jerk.
That’s according to new research from the University of Copenhagen, which found that being a “nice guy” means you’re more likely to earn less money in your career after the age of 30. “I find that men’s earnings are not affected by personality at all in the beginning of their careers, but that men who are more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less agreeable, reap large benefits between their 40s and 60s,” wrote study author Miriam Gensowski in her article on the same study in the Harvard Business Review.
Using data from the 1922 Terman study, one of the only studies to track U.S. data on earnings throughout a lifetime for men and women, Gensowski found that the overall effect of personality on earning potential is as prescriptive as having a college diploma versus graduating from high school. In fact, based on Gensowski analysis, when comparing two men who are equal in every way except for their levels of extraversion, the more extroverted man will earn $600,000 more in his lifetime than his more introverted counterpart. “The magnitude of this effect is equally large for conscientiousness, which isn’t surprising given other research: Conscientious men receive higher wages for being more productive on the job,” writes Gensowski.
But here’s where the whole “nice guys finish last” mantra becomes a reality. Gensowski found that more agreeable men — more likely to help others and be friendly — have significantly less earnings than their less agreeable counterparts. “The man who is very agreeable (in the top 20 percent) will earn about $270,000 less over a lifetime than the average man,” writes Gensowski.
Furthermore, according to the same analysis, highly educated men benefit more than twice as much from these three personality traits (conscientiousness, extraversion and low agreeableness) than less educated men. “For example, when comparing two men with a bachelor’s degree, the introvert (bottom 20 percent of extraversion) will earn about $290,000 less than his peer with average extraversion,” writes Gensowski. “This earnings difference increases to about $760,000 when we compare an introvert to someone at the average extraversion when both hold a master’s or doctorate.”
Gensowski suggests that the reason why highly educated men who are more extraverted tend to earn more money is because they invest more heavily in their skills and knowledge. “Little will be learned at school without participation in class, [and] interactions with teachers and peers,” writes Gensowski. “Thus, more conscientious and extraverted men acquire more human capital in school, and have a higher stock of human capital at the end than the less conscientious and extraverted with the same educational degree.”
The same however, can’t be said for women. “A 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that agreeable men tend to earn less than their peers, but that this effect is virtually nonexistent for women,” reports Business Insider. This, though, according to Gensowki’s analysis, could be attributed to the fact that there’s not yet enough data on women’s professional earnings rather than general differences between genders. “I focused here on the results for men (595 total), because women’s professional opportunities in this cohort were so limited,” writes Gensowski.
Either way, if it’s not quite license to be a jerk, it’s at least a financial incentive.