Nice Guys Really Do Finish Last in the Workplace

August 16, 2011 ( – According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, men who are agreeable in the workplace are likely to earn less than less agreeable individuals.  

The authors of the study hypothesized because agreeable men disconfirm (and disagreeable men confirm) conventional gender roles, agreeableness was expected to be more negatively related to income for men (i.e., the pay gap between agreeable men and agreeable women would be smaller than the gap between disagreeable men and disagreeable women). The hypotheses were supported by four studies. 

Overall, the study found men earn a substantial pay increase for being disagreeable, while the same behavior has little effect on women’s income. The study also shows whether agreeable or not, men still earn more than women. The study also concluded the effects on pay because of agreeableness may be due to the expectations of behavior for different genders.

The study also notes in 1948, nice guys may have finished last because they were competing almost entirely against other men. Now the pool of competitors has increasingly included women. It seems likely women finish behind nice guys, with nice “gals” coming in last; however, social role and role congruity theories also suggest men do take a hit for being highly agreeable, while women may not reap the same benefits for low agreeableness that men do.

Despite the fact that agreeable individuals may earn less in the workplace, it was found these individuals place greater value on their interpersonal relationships, are more motivated to maintain these relationships, are more prosocial, are more cooperative and helpful, and, as a result, are liked more by their peers.  

Click here to read the full study “Do Nice Guys – and Gals Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.”  

 – Tara Cantore