Running Head: AGREEABLENESS, SEX, AND INCOME
Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on
Timothy A. Judge
Mendoza College of Business
University of Notre Dame
Beth A. Livingston
School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Richard Ivey School of Business
University of Western Ontario
In press, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 2
Sex and agreeableness were hypothesized to affect income, such that women and agreeable
individuals were hypothesized to earn less than men and less agreeable individuals. 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 across four studies.
Study 1 confirmed the effects of sex and agreeableness on income and that the agreeableness –
income relationship was significantly more negative for men than for women. Study 2 replicated
these results, controlling for each of the other Big Five traits. Study 3 also replicated the
interaction, and explored explanations and paradoxes of the relationship. A fourth study, using an
experimental design, yielded evidence for the argument that the joint effects of agreeableness
and gender are due to backlash against agreeable men.
Keywords: personality, agreeableness, sex, income, pay, gender wage gap
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 3
Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on
In 1948, speaking of the New York Giants, legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher
was quoted as saying that “nice guys finish last.” Though Durocher (not known to be a very nice
guy himself) maintained that his words were taken out of context (George & Boller, 1989), his
statement has virtually become a truism in United States business culture, where assertiveness
and competitiveness are vaunted attributes (Hofstede, 1980). Despite rather wishful articles in
the popular press extolling a shift in culture toward “the power of nice” (Thaler & Koval, 2006)
and a “kindness revolution” (Horrell, 2006), Durocher’s words receive some support from the
research literature. “Niceness”—in the form of the trait of agreeableness—does not appear to
Agreeable individuals place greater value on their interpersonal relationships (Graziano
& Tobin, 2002), are more motivated to maintain these relationships (Digman, 1997), are more
prosocial (Graziano, Habashi, Sheese, & Tobin, 2007; Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder,
2005; Penner, Fritzsche, Caiger, & Freifeld, 1995), are more cooperative and helpful (Graziano
& Eisenberg, 1997; LePine & Van Dyne, 2001), and, as a result, are better liked by their peers
(Jensen-Campbell, Adams, Perry, Workman, Furdella, & Egan, 2002). Despite—or perhaps
because of—its social benefits, empirical evidence suggests that agreeableness is negatively
related to income and earnings (Bozionelos, 2004; Ng, Eby, Sorensen, & Feldman, 2005;
Mueller & Plug, 2006; Nyhus & Pons, 2005; Rode, Arthaud-Day, Mooney, Near, & Baldwin,
2008; Spurk & Abele, 2010).
Although the cliché attributed to Durocher does have an element of truth, it might also
need to be qualified. In 1948, nice guys may have finished last because they were competing
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 4
almost entirely against other guys. Over the years since, their pool of competitors has
increasingly included women. Based on the persistent wage gap between men and women in the
United States (e.g., Blau & Ferber, 1992; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006), it seems likely that
women finish behind nice guys, with nice “gals” coming in last; however, social role and role
congruity theories (Eagly, 1987; Eagly & Karau, 2002) also suggest that men do take a hit for
being highly agreeable, while women may not reap the same benefits for low agreeableness that
Due to the association of agreeableness with strongly prescribed-and opposing-behavioral
norms for men and women, the effect of agreeableness on income might be quite different for
women than for men. In order to test this association, we present findings from four studies. In
the next section of the paper, we discuss the separate associations of gender and agreeableness
with income and their hypothesized joint effect on income.
Gender and Earnings
There is a persistent gender wage gap in the United States. This gap is apparent in the
analysis of census data from 1955 until the present (e.g., Blau & Ferber, 1992; Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2006). Researchers have been attempting to explain components of the gap for decades
(e.g., Blau & Ferber, 1992; Blau & Kahn, 1994; Weinberger & Kuhn, 2010). It narrowed
considerably in the 1980s, but convergence slowed in the 1990s (Blau & Kahn, 2006) and,
despite the many contributing factors studied, researchers have not been able to explain the
gender wage gap entirely.
Traditionally, there are two categories of explanations for the gender wage gap. Demand-
side explanations are based on examinations of the influence of structural and institutional
characteristics of the labor market (e.g., discrimination; Auster, 1989; Blau & Ferber, 1986).
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 5
Supply-side explanations are drawn from investigations of the effects of differences in human
capital (e.g., Weinberger & Kuhn, 2010) and career decision making (e.g., Jackson & Grabski,
1988) between men and women. These categories of explanations may also help explain the
effect of agreeableness on income and the joint influence of agreeableness and gender.
Agreeableness and Earnings
One has simply to look to Costa and McCrae’s (1992) six facets of agreeableness—trust,
straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness—to get an idea of
what an agreeable person is like. But what of people low in agreeableness? Are they antagonistic
boors with no concern for their relationships? On the one hand, research on the variability of trait
manifestation in behavior (Fleeson & Gallagher, 2009), indicates that, on average, people low in
agreeableness are basically amicable. They are just slightly more likely than people high in trait
agreeableness to behave disagreeably in certain situations by, for instance, aggressively
advocating for their position during conflicts (van de Vliert & Euwema, 2004). On the other
hand, high levels of disagreeableness may be associated with psychopathy (Derefinko & Lynam,
2006), suggesting that disagreeable individuals may be predisposed toward antisocial or deviant
behaviors (Decuyper, De Pauw, De Fruyt, De Bolle, & De Clercq, 2009). However, most
disagreeable individuals are unlikely to suffer from clinical psychological disorders, and as
evident in the myriad acts of corporate malfeasance reported in the literature (Balch &
Armstrong, 2010), antisocial behaviors do not preclude earning higher incomes.
Agreeableness is only modestly related to job performance in general, but it does confer
benefits in the interpersonal dimension of job performance (Hurtz & Donovan, 2000). Given the
increasing reliance of organizations on teams, it would seem that people high in agreeableness
would have at least a slight economic advantage over those low in agreeableness. The fact that
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 6
researchers repeatedly report the opposite is puzzling (Ng et al., 2005; Mueller & Plug, 2006;
Nyhus & Pons, 2005; Rode et al., 2008; Spurk & Abele, 2010) and none have offered more than
minimal explanations for this finding. Yet, as with the association between gender and income,
both supply- and demand-side forces may be responsible.
From the supply side, people high in agreeableness may not translate their human capital
into financial gain as well as people low in agreeableness. According to McCrae and Costa’s
(1996) five-factor conceptualization, personality traits affect individuals’ adaptations to their
environment, including the ways in which they self-regulate. If highly agreeable people are
primarily motivated by the goal to build and maintain positive relationships with others (Digman,
1997), this may conflict with other types of goals that promote extrinsic career success, as
suggested by Spurk and Abele’s (2010) finding that the negative relationship between
agreeableness and income was mediated by career advancement goals. Setting goals to build
their reputation or advance their organizational position might be viewed by highly agreeable
people as competitive behavior, undermining their desire to maintain social harmony. On the
other hand, because people low in agreeableness do not prize smooth interpersonal interactions
as a basic goal and, in fact, value competition, they may be more likely to behave in ways that
advance their interests relative to others. In particular, possibly stemming from their high sense
of psychological entitlement (Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline, & Bushman, 2004) and lower
level of willingness to compromise their self-interests (Barry & Friedman, 1998), disagreeable
bargainers reach more favorable individual settlements in distributive negotiations (Barry &
Friedman, 1998; Liu, Friedman, & Chi, 2005). This may be one of the primary reasons for the
negative relationship between agreeableness and earnings—disagreeable individuals are less
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 7
likely to settle for less favorable outcomes when engaged in negotiations over their pay or other
The aspiration toward harmonious social relationships may also lead highly agreeable
people to adhere excessively to social norms (Paulhus & Trapnell, 2008). There is evidence that,
although people high in agreeableness engage in more altruistic behaviors at work (LePine & van
Dyne, 2001; Ilies, Scott, & Judge, 2006), they are less likely to enact voice behaviors that
constructively challenge existing practice (LePine & van Dyne, 2001). Although altruistic
behaviors are a facet of performance, they involve self-sacrifice and are often not rewarded
(LePine & van Dyne, 2001). Voice behaviors may, on the other hand, attract rewards,
particularly when they are directed toward persuading others of the value of one’s ideas.
From a demand-side perspective, it is perhaps counter-intuitive that employers may favor
people low in agreeableness. People evaluate each other on the two basic dimensions of
warmth/communion and competence/agency (Able, Cuddy, Judd, & Yzerbyt, 2008). Generally,
communion is privileged over competence in overall evaluations of people (Wojciszke & Abele,
2009). Based on this, one might expect for employers to value highly agreeable people more. But
Wojciszke and Abele (2009) found that, when an individual’s goal achievement is entwined with
the behavior of the person they are evaluating, as in the work environment, the ranking of
communion and agency are flipped: perceptions of agency become more important. Thus,
agreeable people would not necessarily reap advantages from being perceived as highly warm by
their employer. Yet, less agreeable people might gain from not being perceived as warm.
Although being disagreeable does not mean that one is more competent or agentic—
communion and agency are not opposite ends of the same construct (Wiggins, 1991)—it may
imply as much in the minds of employers. People who are low in agreeableness may be
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 8
perceived as more competent by virtue of their lack of warmth (Benyus, Bremmer, Pujadas,
Christakis, Collier, & Warholz, 2009). Amabile and Glazebrook (1982) found that people who
were highly critical of others were rated as more competent than those offering favorable
evaluations. Furthermore, in an experimental study, Tieden (2001) found that people
recommended a higher-status position and higher pay for job applicants who expressed anger—a
display that is more likely among disagreeable people (Jensen-Campbell, Knack, Waldrip, &
Campbell, 2007; Meier & Robinson, 2004). The relationship between anger and
recommendations for status and pay was mediated by competence perceptions; liking of the
applicant, on the other hand, had no effect on recommendations. Thus, while agreeable people
might be well-liked, their warmth may undermine perceptions of their competence relative to
their disagreeable peers who may, in fact, be no better equipped for the job. Disagreeable
behaviors, particularly in settings where competitiveness and aggressiveness are valued, seem to
signal ability and promise.
Differential Agreeableness – Income Relationship by Gender
Research on reactions to those who violate gender norms in employment contexts
suggests that, although disagreeableness may advantage both men and women in their pursuit of
extrinsic success, it should particularly do so for men because disagreeable men have the
additional advantage of conforming to gender role expectations. Whereas disagreeable men reap
a double benefit—their disagreeableness helps them better translate their human capital into
earnings advantage, and the same behavior conforms to expectations of “masculine” behavior—
agreeable men are disproportionately disadvantaged. Therefore, although we expect that
agreeableness will be negatively related to income for both men and for women, it will be more
strongly so for men because it conflicts with social norms of masculinity. Likewise, because low
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 9
agreeableness is at odds with norms for feminine behavior, disagreeableness will not likely be
the same asset for women as it is for men. Thus, we would expect to see a greater difference in
income between men high and low in agreeableness compared to the difference between women
high and low in agreeableness. Put another way, the gender pay gap should be higher for
disagreeable women versus disagreeable men than for agreeable women vs. agreeable men
(though the gap should favor men—there will be a gender pay gap even taking agreeableness and
its interaction with gender into account).
According to social role and role congruity theories (Eagly, 1987; Eagly & Karau, 2002),
social roles prescribe socially shared expectations of members of a particular social category
(Biddle, 1979). These expectations are also normative, in that they describe qualities believed to
be desirable for each sex (Eagly, 1987). Gender norms, or stereotypes, follow from observations
of people in sex-typical social roles (e.g., Eagly et al., 2000) and are often organized according to
communal and agentic attributes (see Bakan, 1966; Eagly, 1987). Men are expected to be high in
agency and low in communion, while the opposite is expected of women (Eagly, 1987; Eagly &
Steffen, 1984; Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997). Both men and women who act in ways that are
contrary to expected behaviors in certain contexts may encounter backlash when they do not
conform to stereotyped expectations. Backlash refers to social and economic sanctions for
counterstereotypical behavior (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). Counterstereotypical behavior often
results in less favorable personnel decisions such as decreased recognition, compromised
opportunities for advancement (Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008; Rudman & Glick, 1999, 2001;
Rudman & Phelan, 2008), and, at worst, sabotage directed against “deviants” (Rudman &
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 10
Penalties for violation of gender norms have been investigated most often with regard to
women engaging in “masculine” behavior or operating in traditionally masculine roles (Brescoll
& Uhlmann, 2008; Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992; Heilman & Okimoto, 2007; Heilman,
Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Parks-Stamm, Heilman, & Hearns, 2008; Phelan, Moss-
Racusin, & Rudman, 2008). Numerous studies have found that women who have been successful
at traditionally masculine jobs are derogated for a lack of interpersonal warmth (Heilman &
Okimoto, 2007; Heilman et al., 2004; Parks-Stamm et al., 2008). A few studies have
demonstrated that men, like women, could face backlash for behaving counter to gender norms.
Rudman (1998) found that self-promoting women and self-effacing men were considered less
socially attractive and less qualified than self-effacing women and self-promoting men,
respectively. In fact, self-effacement seemed more of a losing strategy for men than self-
promotion was for women, which is consistent with Heilman and Wallen’s (2010) argument that
men are likely to be penalized for the very behaviors that are prescribed for women. Their
experimental study revealed that men who succeeded at female gender-typed jobs were cast by
study participants as more ineffectual and less deserving of respect than women in the same job
and men in a male gender-typed job. The authors argued that this pattern of ratings arose because
success in a gender-inconsistent job implies a deviation from prescriptive gender norms.
Framed in an analogous manner, while individuals desiring higher extrinsic rewards
might be advised to be more competitive and self-interested (i.e., less agreeable), women’s
efforts may be neutralized because such actions violate gender norms. Thus, women may face a
“no win” situation in the sense that, should they be agreeable, they are, like men, prone to
exploitation by others (Barry & Friedman, 1998; Liu et al., 2005) and are less likely to be
perceived as competent (Rudman & Glick, 1999, 2001). Should they be disagreeable, however,
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 11
the income advantages of disagreeableness may be dampened because their behavior violates
gender role norms (Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008).
In addition to the stereotype-related penalties for low agreeableness that women face,
there are myriad other factors shown in previous research to contribute to the gender gap. We do
not expect low agreeableness to compensate for all of these other variables. Thus, we expect that
women low in agreeableness will earn more than women high in agreeableness, but still will not
earn as much as men high or low in agreeableness. Yet, we expect a narrower gap between
disagreeable women and highly agreeable men; the latter, we expect, will earn considerably less
than disagreeable men, who are doubly advantaged by their standing on the trait via their
tendency toward self-interested behavior that conforms to social roles.
Effect of Job and Occupation and Other Controls
Each of the three expected relationships—that women earn less than men, that agreeable
individuals earn less than the disagreeable, and that the effect of agreeableness on earnings is
more negative for men—might be biased by the failure to control for job or occupational
characteristics. Specifically, regarding our first expected relationship (effect of sex on earnings),
the occupational segregation literature consistently shows that women are sorted into lower-
earning, less prestigious occupations (e.g., Duncan & Prus, 1992). Regarding our second
expected relationship (effect of agreeableness on earnings), although occupational choice and
selection based on agreeableness is much less well understood, R. Hogan’s (1983) socioanalytic
theory and Barrick, Stewart, and Piotrowski’s (2002) results suggests that personality may affect
choice of situations (J. Hogan & Holland, 2003)—in this case that agreeable individuals, being
more motivated to “get along” than “get ahead,” may choose to work in lower-status, more
service-oriented occupations. Finally, regarding the final and focal relationship (differential
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 12
effect of agreeableness on income for men vs. women), it is possible that the differential
association of agreeableness with income for men and women might be affected by job and
occupational characteristics. In short, it is possible that agreeableness disproportionately affects
men’s earnings because agreeable men (as opposed to disagreeable men) are less likely to pursue
Accordingly, in the third study, we tested the hypotheses controlling for various job and
occupational characteristics. Across all three field studies, we included three relevant control
variables: educational attainment, marital status, work history, and hours worked to control for
possible third order variables that may be related to gender, agreeableness, and earnings. Below,
we introduce the individual studies and the nuances of each approach.
In Study 1, the hypothesized relationships among gender, agreeableness, and income are
tested on a large sample of working adults. In addition to the aforementioned control variables,
Study 1 also controls for two other Big Five traits: neuroticism and extraversion. Neuroticism is
a trait (along with agreeableness) that demonstrates the most consistently large gender effects
over time (Bouchard & Loehlin, 2001), such that men are less neurotic than women.
Additionally, neuroticism (or its converse, emotional stability) and extraversion have been found
to be related to career success (e.g., Ng et al., 2005). Thus, controlling for these traits allows us
to exclude two potential confounding factors. We also control for income at the time
agreeableness was measured, so that gender, agreeableness, and their interaction predict
prospective changes in income.
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 13
Participants and Procedure
Participants in Study 1 were individuals enrolled in the National Longitudinal Surveys of
Youth (NLSY97). The NLSY97 is sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department
of Labor, and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of
Chicago with assistance from the Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR) at The Ohio
State University. The NLSY97 consists of a nationally representative sample of approximately
9,000 youths who were aged 12-16 at the initiation of the study in 1997. Since 1997, participants
have been interviewed annually, though 2008 is the most recent year for which data are
available. Although the primary focus of the NLSY97 was to document the transition from
school to the labor market, in 2002, data on participants’ personalities were collected.
Most interviews were conducted in participants’ households (in the relatively small
[approximately 13%] of cases where this was not possible, participants were interviewed over
the phone). Participants were provided small (typically $10) incentives for participating in each
round of interviews. Naturally, some sample attrition occurred over time, though the level of
attrition was relatively low, averaging roughly 2% per time period. Because many of the
participants were of college age over the time period when income was assessed, we limited the
study to those individuals who were (a) working outside the home, (b) not enrolled in college
full-time, and (c) working at least 1,000 hours per year. These restrictions reduced the sample
size to N=560.
Agreeableness. We measured participant agreeableness by their responses to three
questions that were asked in the 2002 survey. These three questions were: (1) “How much do
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 14
you feel that agreeable describes you as a person, where 1 means quarrelsome and 5 means
agreeable?”; (2) “How much do you feel that difficult describes you as a person, where 1 means
cooperative and 5 means difficult?”; and (3) “How much do you feel that stubborn describes you
as a person, where 1 means flexible and 5 means stubborn?” The last two items were reverse-
scored, and then the three responses were averaged. The coefficient alpha reliability estimate of
this scale was α=.79.1
Neuroticism and extraversion. Neuroticism was measured with a four-item scale (α=.77)
on the 2002 survey: (1) “How much of the time during the last month have you been a very
nervous person?”; (2) “How much of the time during the last month have you felt calm and
peaceful?”; (3) “How much of the time during the last month have you felt downhearted and
blue?”; and (4) “How much of the time during the last month have you been a happy person?”
Responses to these questions were evaluated on a 1=all of the time; 2=most of the time; 3=some
of the time; and 4=none of the time scale. Responses to the second and fourth questions were
reverse-scored, and then participants’ responses were averaged. Extraversion was measured with
a two-item scale (α=.43), completed in 2008, where participants evaluated how well two pair of
traits (“extraverted, enthusiastic” and “reserved, quiet”) described them. Responses were
anchored on a 1=disagree strongly to 7=agree strongly scale. For the extraversion scale,
responses to the second item pair were reverse scored, and responses to the two items were
Sex. Participants’ sex was noted by the interviewer in the initial interview and was coded
Education, marital status, hours worked, and work history. Participant education was
measured with a variable that was created to reflect, on an ordinal scale, the highest degree
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 15
received as of 2004. Responses ranged from 0=none to 7=doctoral-level degree. Marital status
was measured by the interviewer recording, during the 2003 interview, whether the participant
was married or had a partner in the household (coded 1) or was single, divorced, separated, or
widowed (coded 0). Participant hours worked was measured by computing the average hours the
participant worked 2004-2008. Continuous work history and unemployment pay were assessed,
respectively, by averaging whether or not the participant was employed over the study (1997-
2008) and whether or not the participant drew unemployment compensation over the study
Income and prior income. We measured income by averaging, across 2004-2008,
participants’ responses to the question, “During (YEAR), how much income did you receive
from wages, salary, commissions, or tips from all jobs, before deductions for taxes or for
anything else?” Because we controlled for this variable as measured in 2003, our regression
estimates changes in income over time (Edwards, 1995), after agreeableness was measured.
The descriptive statistics for and intercorrelations among the Study 1 variables are
provided in Table 1. The regression results predicting income with gender, agreeableness, and
the control variables are provided in Table 2. We estimated one pooled regression (for men and
women combined), as well as separate regressions for men and women.2 Because the raw
(unstandardized) coefficients are in practically meaningful units, we report both raw (B) and
standardized (β) regression coefficients.
As shown in Table 2, in the overall regression, agreeableness and gender both negatively
predict earnings, meaning that women and those who score high on agreeableness earn less than
men and those who score low on agreeableness. The effect sizes were such that women earned,
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 16
on average, $4,787 less than men, even controlling for education, marital status, hours worked
per week, and work force continuity. Given the average salary in Study 1, this amounts to a 14%
income difference. The regression results in Table 2 also show that the effect of agreeableness on
income was stronger for men (B=−$6,958, β=−.21, p < .01) than for women (B=−$1,100,
β=−.05, ns). To test whether the effect of agreeableness on earnings differed for men and
women, we used the formula provided by Paternoster, Brame, Mazerolle, and Piquero (1998; see
also Clogg, Petkova, & Haritou, 1995). Using this test statistic, the coefficients for agreeableness
in Table 2 were significantly different for men and women (t = -3.53, p < .01). The top half of
Figure 1 provides a graph of the regression results for men and women. As the figure shows, the
negative effect of agreeableness on income is stronger for men than for women. At low levels of
agreeableness (1 standard deviation below the mean on agreeableness), the gender wage gap is
roughly double that at high levels of agreeableness (1 standard deviation above the mean).
The variables of neuroticism and extraversion (also Big Five personality traits) were also
included in the regressions for men and for women. Neuroticism was negatively related to pay
for men (B=-$6,789.45, β=−.12, p < .05) but not significantly so for women (B=−$6,280.13,
β=−.16, p > .05). Extraversion was not significantly related to pay for men (B=$1,628.01, β= .07,
p > .05) or for women (B=$1,118.22, β=.08, p >.05). For men, neuroticism tends to result in
significantly less pay than it does for women, but extraversion does not affect the income
reported by men or by women.
A limitation of Study 1 is that, beyond agreeableness, only two Big Five traits—
neuroticism and extraversion—were controlled. In Study 2, we seek to replicate the Study 1
results with another sample of working adults. Unlike Study 1, all of our expected relationships
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 17
are tested controlling for all four of the other Big Five traits (i.e., neuroticism, conscientiousness,
openness to experience, and extraversion) in order to ensure that our observed effects are due to
agreeableness and not to the confounding effects of one of the other traits.
Participants and Procedure
Participants in Study 2 were individuals enrolled in the National Survey of Midlife
Development in the United States (MIDUS), an investigation of patterns, predictors, and
consequences of midlife development in the areas of physical health, psychological well-being,
and social attitudes. Participants were drawn from a nationally representative random-digit-dial
sample of non-institutionalized, English-speaking adults, age 25-74, selected from working
telephone banks in the coterminous United States. Individuals who first participated in an initial
telephone interview subsequently responded to two mail surveys. The initial phone interview
(lasting approximately 30 minutes) and subsequent mail surveys (taking an average of two hours
to complete in total) were completed in one year’s time, 1995-1996. Participants were instructed
that the survey was being carried out through Harvard Medical School and that their individual
responses would remain strictly confidential. Those who participated received a boxed pen and a
check for $20.
Of the sample of individuals originally targeted for participation, approximately 70%
agreed to participate in the telephone interview and, of those, roughly 87% completed the mailed
surveys. Of the 3,032 individuals who completed both the telephone interview and mailed
surveys, our sample size was further limited by restricting the analysis to individuals employed
full-time outside the home. All told, 1,681 individuals met these criteria, of whom 1,000 were
men and 681 were women.
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 18
Agreeableness. Agreeableness was measured, along with the other Big Five traits, with a
series of adjectives, preceded by the instructions, “Please indicate how well each of the following
describes you.” Each adjective was evaluated using a 1=A LOT, 2=SOME, 3=A LITTLE, and
4=NOT AT ALL response scale. The seven adjectives assessing agreeableness were: (a) helpful;
(b) friendly; (c) warm; (d) caring; (e) softhearted; (f) outspoken; and (g) sympathetic. So that
high scores reflected high levels of agreeableness, all items – except item “f” – were reverse-
scored. Agreeableness scores were then computed by averaging responses to the seven items.
The coefficient alpha reliability estimate for this scale was α=.76.3
Other Big Five traits. The other four Big Five traits were assessed with the same
adjectival measure described above. Extraversion was measured with eight items (e.g., outgoing,
assertive, talkative), α=.81; conscientiousness was measured with eight items (e.g., organized,
hardworking, careless [reverse-scored]), α=.75; neuroticism was measured with five items (e.g.,
moody, self-confident [reverse-scored], nervous), α=.74; openness was measured with six items
(e.g., creative, curious, broad-minded), α=.75.
Sex. Sex of the participant was recorded in the initial interview and, as in the other
studies, was coded as 1=male, 2=female.
Education, marital status, hours worked, and work history. Education was measured with
an item in which participants were asked, "What is the highest grade of school or year of college
you completed?" Responses were categorized as: (1) some grade school to some high school, (2)
GED or graduated from high school, (3) some college (no bachelor's degree), and (4) graduated
from college or obtained other professional degree. From this, we created a dummy variable
indicating whether the participant had a college degree. Marital status was measured with a
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 19
question asking participants, “Are you married, separated, divorced, widowed, or never
married?” From this, we created a dummy variable indicating whether the participant was
married (coded 1) or not (coded 0). Hours worked was measured by participants’ responses to
the question, “In an average week, how many hours do you work for pay?” Unemployment
status was assessed (0=no, 1=yes) if individuals were currently unemployed or looking for work.
Continuous work history was assessed by respondents’ answers to the question: “Starting from
the year you first worked for six months or more, and continuing up to the present, how many
years were you employed at least six months out of the year?”
Job complexity. Job complexity was measured with a seven-item composite (α=.88) variable
reflecting, among others, the numeric aptitude required in the job, the degree to which the job
involved responsibility for the direction, control or planning of an activity, the complexity of the
work in dealing with things or objects, complexity of the work in dealing with data, and
adaptability required in giving and receiving instructions.
Income. Income was measured with participants’ responses to the question, “What was
your own personal earnings income in the past 12 months, before taxes?”
The descriptive statistics and correlations among Study 2 variables are provided in Table
3. The regression results for the sample overall, and for men and women separately, are provided
in Table 4. As Table 4 shows, sex and agreeableness negatively predicted earnings, meaning that
women and agreeable individuals earn less than men and less agreeable individuals. This
replicates our findings in Study 1.
As with Study 1, we estimated separate equations for men and women, the results of
which are reported in Table 4. In this study, like the previous one, agreeableness significantly
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 20
negatively predicted earnings for men (B=−$10,326, p < .01), whereas the effect for women was
much weaker (B=−$3,213, p < .05), albeit statistically significant in this study. Moreover, using
the same test as before, the coefficients in Table 4 were significantly different (t = -4.32, p <
.01), and in the predicted direction, such that agreeableness impacted earnings more negatively
for men than for women. The separate regression results are plotted for men and women in the
bottom half of Figure 1. As the figure shows, although increasing levels of agreeableness led to
decreased earnings for men and women alike, the effect was stronger for men.
Changes in Income
Because the MIDUS study included a follow-up roughly 10 years after the first wave of
data collection, we sought to replicate the finding in Study 1 that the differential effects of
agreeableness on changes in earnings for men and women were replicated. Accordingly, we used
the second wave measure of income (for this second wave, income was broken into 42 categories
(1=less than $0, 2=$0 … 41=$175,000 – $199,999, 42=$200,000 or more). As in Study 1, we
used the previous measure of income as an independent variable, which renders the dependent
variable a change in income since agreeableness was measured. We used the same control
variables as those in Table 4, updated where possible to reflect the timing of the second wave.
Regression results indicated that agreeableness negatively predicted change in income for
men (β = -.13, p < .05), whereas for women, agreeableness was not significantly related to
change in income (β = .06, ns). Utilizing the Chow (1960) test, these coefficients were
significantly different (p < .01). Moreover, as before, when a single equation was estimated with
an agreeableness × sex interaction, the interaction was significant (t = 2.15, p < .05). Thus, it
appears as in Study 1, the differential effect of agreeableness by gender operates not only for
income, but for post-agreeableness changes in income.
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 21
In Study 2, we also examined the other four Big Five personality traits and their effects
on income for men and for women. Unlike in Study 1, neuroticism was not related to income for
men (B=$1,695, p > .05) or for women (B=-$184, p > .05) in this sample. Extraversion, on the
other hand, mimicked the same results as observed in Study 1: no significant effects for men
(B=−$252, p > .05) or for women (B=$1,531, p > .05). Conscientiousness (B=$4,815, p < .01)
and openness (B=$4,090, p < .05), however, were both significantly positively related to income
for men but not for women (conscientiousness: B=$2,394, p > .05; openness: B=−$1,108.79, p >
.05). In this sample, men who are conscientious and open tend to report higher incomes while the
same traits have no effect on women’s income.
Differential Effects of Agreeableness on Other Outcomes
How generalized is the gendered nature of the agreeableness effect? Is it limited to pay or
does it apply to other outcomes as well. To answer these questions, in Study 2, we examined
whether agreeableness differentially affected, for men and women, the following outcomes:
current employment status (whether the individual was currently employed), proportion of time
the individual was employed full-time from 1994 to 2003, the total length of unemployment in
their working careers (coded as 0 for individuals who had never been unemployed), the longest
interval of unemployment (again coded 0 for those never unemployed), whether the individual
currently supervises others (recoded 1=yes, 0=no), whether the individual had ever been fired
(recoded 1=yes, 0=no), the number of times an individual had been fired (coded as 0 for those
reporting never to have been fired), the number of times the individual was not given a
promotion for which s/he was eligible, and job complexity. In a few cases agreeableness
predicted these outcomes: agreeable individuals were slightly less likely to have been fired from
their job (β = -.08, p < .05), agreeable individuals’ jobs were less complex (β = -.11, p < .01).
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 22
However, in no case was there a differential relationship of agreeableness with these variables by
gender. Thus, it does not appear that the differential effects of agreeableness by gender
generalize to non-pay variables, at least within the limits of Study 2 data.
Though the previous analyses support the effect of gender and agreeableness on
earnings—and the differential effect of agreeableness by gender—they do not eliminate two
important potential confounds. It is possible that the results were observed due to occupational
segregation (at least that not captured by job complexity). Specifically, if men or disagreeable
people earn more because they occupy jobs with greater responsibilities, they may earn more
simply for this fact. Similarly, if men or disagreeable individuals work in higher status
occupations—attorneys and engineers rather than social workers or elementary school teachers—
the earnings advantages enjoyed by disagreeable men may be confounded with the occupations
they occupy. Accordingly, in Study 3, we sought to replicate the earlier results, controlling for
job responsibility and occupational status, and to investigate possible mediators and paradoxes
underlying the agreeableness – gender interaction.
Participants and Procedure
Participants in Study 3 were enrollees in The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS). The
WLS is a long-term study of a random sample of 10,317 men and women who graduated from
Wisconsin high schools in 1957. The WLS – administered by the University of Wisconsin-
Madison and, since 1991, funded by the National Institute on Aging – includes survey data from
in 1957, 1964, 1975, and 1992-1993. Although the primary focus of the WLS was to gather
socioeconomic data (social background, education, military service, family formation, labor
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 23
market experiences), in 1992 participants were surveyed about their personality. Accordingly, for
this study, all variables except gender were assessed in the 1992-1993 interview.
As before, we limited the sample based on several conditions: (1) individuals were
employed full-time (not retired or semi-retired); and (2) individuals who reported positive
income for the year (the few individuals with negative income values were excluded). This
reduced the sample to 1,691 individuals, of which 1,157 were men and 534 were women.
Agreeableness. Agreeableness was measured in the 1992-1993 survey with a series of
questions which included other Big Five traits. In this section, participants were instructed: “This
section lists a number of characteristics that may or may not apply to you. Please read the
statements below and decide the extent to which each statement describes you. I see myself as
someone who...”. For each item, participants were presented with six numbers: 1=agree strongly,
2=agree moderately, 3=agree slightly, 4=disagree slightly, 5=disagree moderately, and
6=disagree strongly. The seven agreeableness items were: (1) has a forgiving nature; (2) tends to
find fault with others; (3) is sometimes rude to others; (4) is generally trusting; (5) can be cold
and aloof; (6) is considerate to almost everyone; and (7) likes to cooperate with others. The
response scale was reversed so that high scores represented high levels of agreeableness, the
second, third, and fifth items were reverse-scored, and then the items were averaged. The
reliability of this seven-item scale was α=.74.
Other Big Five traits. The other four Big Five traits were measured with a series of
questions; as with agreeableness, the stem preceding each question was: “To what extent do you
agree that you see yourself as someone who…” The responses were anchored on the same
1=agree strongly to 6=disagree strongly scale. Extraversion was measured with eight items (e.g.,
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 24
“is outgoing and sociable” and “is reserved” [reverse-scored]); the reliability of this scale was
α=.82. Conscientiousness also was measured with an eight-item scale (e.g., “can be somewhat
careless” [reverse-scored] and “does a thorough job”); the reliability of this scale was α=.71.
Neuroticism was measured with seven items (e.g., “is relaxed and handles stress well” [reverse-
scored] and “is emotionally stable, not easily upset” [reverse-scored]); the reliability of the scale
was α=.83. Finally, openness was measured with eight items (e.g., “values artistic, aesthetic
experiences” and “is inventive”); the reliability of the scale was α=.69.
Sex. In the initial 1957 interview, interviewers recorded participants’ sex and coded it as
Education, marital status, hours worked, and work history. Education was measured with
a variable reflecting the highest level of education attained by participants, which was coded
0=high school diploma, 1=associate’s degree, 2=baccalaureate degree, 3=master's degree,
4=doctoral degree. Marital status was measured with a question on the 1992-1993 survey asking
about the current marital status of the participant; this variable was subsequently recoded as
1=married, 0=otherwise. As for hours worked per week, individuals were asked to report total
hours worked per week on all jobs. Finally, continuous work history was assessed by a variable
scored as 1 if the individual was employed throughout the frame of the study and 0 otherwise,
and unemployment experience was measured with a variable scored as 1 if the individual had
collected unemployment compensation for any time during the study frame and 0 otherwise.
Job responsibility. Job responsibility was measured by participants’ responses to four
questions about the authority and responsibilities in their current job (in 1992-1993). Example
items are: “Do you have authority to hire or fire others?” and “Can you influence or set the rate
of pay received by others?” Participants responded to the questions by answering either yes
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 25
(coded 1) or no (coded 0). An overall job responsibility scale was computed by averaging
responses to the four questions. The reliability of this four-item scale was α=.76.
Occupational status. Occupational status was measured with Nakao and Treas’ (1992)
rating of the prestige of occupations listed in the National Opinion Research Center’s General
Social Survey. To reflect occupational changes over time, Nakao and Treas (1992) updated
previous measures of occupational status. Theoretically, status scores range from 0, reflecting
low status, to 100 reflecting high status, though the actual range of scores is somewhat narrower.
Example occupational status ratings are: dishwasher=16.78; bartender=24.53;
cosmetologist=36.08; insurance agent=44.85; dietician=55.61; airline pilot=61.02,
architect=73.05, physician=86.05. These ratings were then applied to the occupations provided
by Study 3 participants.
Income. In the 1992-1993 interview, respondents were asked to report their total income
in the past 12 months.
Table 5 contains the descriptive statistics and intercorrelations among Study 3 variables.
The regression results for Study 3 are provided in Table 6. As before, the results of three
regressions are reported—a pooled regression and separate regressions for men and women.
However, in this study, two new variables are added as controls: job responsibilities and
occupational status. As in Studies 1 and 2, in the overall regression, both sex and agreeableness
negatively predicted earnings, meaning that women and more agreeable individuals earned less
than men and more agreeable people even when controlling for job responsibility and
occupational status (both of which positively predicted income).
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 26
The separate regression results for men and women in Table 6 show that the effect of
agreeableness on income was considerably stronger for men (B=−$12,032, p < .01) than for
women (B=−$1,174, ns). Using the same test statistic as before, the coefficients for
agreeableness in Table 8 were significantly different for men and women (t = -4.48, p < .01).
Figure 2 provides the regression results for men and women. As the figure shows, even
controlling for job responsibility and occupational status, agreeableness has a much stronger
negative effect on earnings for men than for women, meaning that low agreeableness exacerbates
the gender wage gap; although agreeable men earn more than agreeable women, this gap almost
doubles for disagreeable men and women.4
As in Study 2, we included the other four Big Five traits. In Study 3, the effects of
neuroticism replicated those in Study 1, such that it was a significant predictor of income for
men (B= -$6,041, p < .05) but not for women (B= -$1,966, p > .05). Extraversion and openness
were both not significantly related to income for men (extraversion: B=$1,424, p > .05;
openness: B=-$2,086, p > .05) or for women (extraversion: B=-$2,454, p> .05; openness: B=-
$2,808, p > .05). Finally, in contrast to Study 2, Conscientiousness was not significantly related
to income for men (B=$1,504, p > .05) or for women (B=$1,646, p > .05).
Possible Explanations for Differential Agreeableness – Income Relationship by Sex
While the results thus far suggest that agreeableness is negatively associated with
earnings, especially for men, they do not explain why. Some of the control variables argue
against some possible explanations (i.e., it does not appear that disagreeable individuals earn
more because they occupy more complex or higher status jobs), but do not suggest where the
explanation may lie. Accordingly, on an exploratory basis, we investigated two possible
explanations. First, disagreeable individuals may earn more because they value money more than
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 27
their more agreeable counterparts. Money motives have been linked to lower subjective well-
being (Kasser & Ryan, 1993; Srivastava, Locke, & Bartol, 2001), but that, of course, does not
address the question of whether such motives may mediate the relationship between
agreeableness and earnings. Second, agreeable individuals may earn less because they emphasize
friendships (communion) over economic success (agency) (Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997). To be
sure, communal relationships may produce tangible benefits (Grant & Gino, 2010), but there are
only so many hours in a day.It is not always easy to balance communal activities with agentic
ones, and emphasizing communion may come at some cost to agency (Abele, Uchronski,
Suitner, & Wojciszke, 2008).
Accordingly, we measured pay importance with a six-item scale (α=.71) assessing the
degree to which the individual valued high pay over other job attributes such as job security,
benefits, on-the-job training, etc. (“Which do you think is more important in a job: _________ or
getting high pay?”). We measured communal relationships (Crocker & Canevello, 2008) with a
four-item scale (α=.75) assessing the degree to which the individual was motivated by and found
rewarding their social relationships (“To what extent do you agree that you enjoy personal and
mutual conversations with family members and friends?”). The pay importance measure was
correlated with gender (r = -.20, p < .01), agreeableness (r = -.10, p < .01), and income (r = .27, p
< .01), such that those who valued pay were more likely to be male, to be disagreeable, and to
earn more. The communal relationships variable also was correlated with gender (r = .34, p <
.01), agreeableness (r = .46, p < .01), and income (r = -.16, p < .01), such that women, agreeable
individuals, and those who earned less were more oriented toward communal relationships.
Moreover, entering these two variables in the regressions specified in Table 6 substantially
weakened the effect of agreeableness on earnings for men. For men, entering the two variables
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 28
reduced the agreeableness coefficient from β = -.15 (p < .01) to β = -.08 (p < .05). For women,
entering the two variables had little effect on the agreeableness coefficient, changing it from β=-
.02 (ns) to β=--.03 (ns). Thus, it appears that the stronger negative effect of agreeableness on
earnings for men can be partly explained by the value disagreeable men place on earning money
over communal relationships.
Paradoxes of Agreeableness and Gender
A limitation of this investigation is the focus on a single criterion—income. Though
income is a central concern in social science research, it certainly does not exhaust the list of
important outcomes to which agreeableness may be linked (Cuperman & Ickes, 2009; Jensen-
Campbell, Knack, & Gomez, 2010). Accordingly, in this study, we link gender and
agreeableness to four other outcomes: (1) life satisfaction, measured with an 14-item scale (“To
what extent do you agree that when you look at the story of your life, you are pleased with how
things have turned out?”; α=.84); (2) stress, measured with a nine-item scale (“To what extent do
you agree that you often feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities?”; α=.73); (3)
social/community involvement, measured with a checklist of whether the individual participated
in 10 community/social activities (e.g., involvement with youth groups, church, business/civic
groups, parent-teacher associations, etc.); and (4) breadth/depth of friendship networks,
measured with a six-item scale assessing the degree to which perceived that they had numerous
friendships (“To what extent do you agree that you often feel lonely because you have few close
friends with whom to share your concerns?” [reverse-scored]; α=.79). Results indicated that
agreeableness was significantly positively correlated with life satisfaction (r=.30, p < .01),
significantly negatively correlated with stress (r=-.21, p < .01), and significantly positively
correlated with community involvement (r=.13, p < .01) and friendship networks (r=.32, p < .01).
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 29
Though less strongly, gender also was correlated with these variables, such that women had
slightly higher life satisfaction (r=.05, p < .05), lower stress (r=-.07, p < .01), were more
involved in their communities (r=.13, p < .01), and possessed more extensive friendship
networks (r=.12, p < .01). These results suggest that if disagreeable men win the earnings war, it
is a victory that may come at some cost.
Curvilinearity: Is the Agreeableness – Income Relationship Linear for Men and for Women?
As has been shown with respect to other Big Five traits predicting other outcomes (Ames
& Flynn, 2007; Le, Oh, Robbins, Ilies, Holland, & Westrick, 2011), it is possible that the
agreeableness – income relationship is not linear. If there is a curvilinear relationship, we would
expect the negative effects of being agreeable would operate mostly at the high end of the
agreeableness distribution, such that the agreeableness – income relationship is steeper (more
strongly negative) at high levels than at low levels of agreeableness. Put another way, there is a
greater earnings penalty in moving from moderately agreeable to strongly agreeable than in
moving from strongly disagreeable to moderately disagreeable. In such a case, one would expect
both the linear and the quadratic terms to be negative. Accordingly, in each study, we computed
a quadratic term that was the square of agreeableness and entered it into the equations (for men
and for women) for Studies 1-3.
In Study 1, for men, both the linear (β = -.18, p < .01) and the quadratic (β = .15, p < .01)
terms were significant (for women, the quadratic term was not significant). This means that for
men, the agreeableness – income relationship was steeper (more negative) at low levels of
agreeableness than at high levels. In Study 2 and in Study 3, the quadratic term was significant
for neither men nor women. Thus, the Study 1 results for men notwithstanding, in general the
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 30
results did not support a non-linear association between agreeableness and earnings for men or
In the previous three studies we have established that the effect of agreeableness on
earnings is more negative for men than for women. Though we have posited that this is due to a
stereotype backlash effect (Rudman, 1998), we have not investigated this process specifically.
Thus, Study 4 was designed to provide evidence for the existence of a “demand-side” effect of
stereotype-related backlash, such that women who do not act sufficiently “warm” (i.e., feminine)
or men who act in stereotypically feminine ways (i.e., warmly) encounter evaluative backlash at
work, which serves as one precursor to the earning differentials observed in Studies 1-3.
In the sections above, we noted that disagreeableness may help an individual translate
human capital into an earnings advantage, but we also noted that when individuals violate
prescriptive gender norms they can encounter backlash via evaluations of competence and
potential (Heilman & Wallen, 2010; Rudman, 1998). These evaluations can be very important
for the future financial success of individual employees. When employees are expected by their
colleagues and managers to be promoted into management, they tend to fulfill such expectations
(Pygmalion effect; Eden, 1984), reaping the associated financial rewards of such upward
mobility. Thus, we expect that when men enact more stereotypically feminine behaviors (i.e.,
agreeable, warm behaviors), they will be rated as less likely to be “management” material. As
was the case with earnings, we expect that this backlash effect will be more severe for men
because they will simultaneously be enacting behaviors that are violations of prescriptive gender
roles (e.g., Eagly & Karau, 2002) and are associated with a lack of competence (Tieden, 2001).
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 31
Participants and Procedure
Four hundred and sixty undergraduate students in a large business management class at a
Southeastern university participated in this study for extra credit. About half of the participants
were female (48%) and the average age was 21.74 years. The majority of the sample was white
(65%). Sixteen percent self-reported as Hispanic, 4.3% as Black, and 11.1% as Asian/Pacific
Students completed the study online, where they were presented with a scenario in which
they were to act as human resource managers for a fictional company. Eight entry-level
candidates for a consultant position were described in brief paragraphs summarizing the
candidate’s qualifications and his/her behavior in interactions with others. Participants then
determined whether each of the eight candidates should be placed on a fast-track to management.
Participants were randomly assigned to eight female or eight male candidates (to disguise the
gender component of the study) and, within each group of candidates, four were described as
being agreeable and four as disagreeable. A sample candidate description is presented below:
Carl Q.: Was well organized. Nonverbal behaviors were appropriate. Demonstrated
great intelligence via college transcripts. Has good insights on topics. Observation: He
seems to be candid and trusting.
The sentence after “Observation” was varied for each candidate based on agreeableness,
but was otherwise kept consistent across applicants (each was described, in some way, as
conscientious, smart and insightful). Descriptions of agreeableness were derived from Costa and
McCrae (1992) and encompassed trust, straightforwardness, modesty and compliance
(disagreeable candidates were described as the opposite). This minimal comparison design
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 32
(gender manipulated only by name of candidate and agreeableness by a simple sentence)
presents a conservative test of our hypothesis.
Management potential. Participants recommended whether each candidate should be
placed on a fast-track to management by answering a dichotomous “yes” or “no” question.
Agreeableness of rater. Participants rated their own agreeableness at the end f the
experimental task using John’s (1980) Big Five Inventory. The nine-item scale included items
such as “I am kind to almost everyone,” and “I like to cooperate with others,” and participants
responded to each item using a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from strongly disagree to
strongly agree. The agreeableness scale had a reliability of ρ = .80.
Because each participant rated multiple candidates, data were analyzed using HLM 6
(Raudenbush, Bryk, Cheong, & Congdon, 2004). Variables entered at level 2 (the participant
level) included rater gender (male or female), gender of candidate slate (male candidates or
female candidates), and the agreeableness of the rater. Variables entered at level 1 (candidate-
rating level) included candidate agreeableness (nice or not nice), candidate warmth, and
candidate competence. The dependent variable (recommendation for management track) was a
dichotomous (yes or no). To test the agreeableness-gender interaction, we analyzed cross-level
interactions (between the candidate agreeableness at level 1 and candidate-slate gender at level
Table 7 provides the results of the HLM analysis predicting participants’ advancement
recommendations for the hypothetical candidates. As is shown in the table, agreeable candidates
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 33
(B = -.47, p < .05) were less likely to be recommended for advancement. Results approached
significance for candidate gender, such that female candidates (B = -.09, p < .10) were less likely
to be recommended. This is consistent with the field study results presented earlier. Moreover, as
in the previous studies, there was an agreeableness-gender interaction (B = .25, p < .01).6
The agreeableness-gender interaction is displayed in Figure 3. As the figure shows,
candidate agreeableness was rather strongly negatively related to advancement
recommendations. Gender was as well—albeit less strongly so—in that women were less likely
to be recommended for advancement. Consistent with hypotheses and the earlier field study
results with respect to pay, the negative effect of agreeableness on advancement recommendation
was significantly stronger (more negative) for men than for women. Overall, these experimental
results support the field study results, and suggest the importance of “demand-side” (decision-
maker) explanations for the joint influences of agreeableness and gender on earnings.7
For men, it literally pays to be a contrarian. In the first three studies, the slopes of the
negative relationship between agreeableness and income were steeper for men than for women.
Indeed, with the exception of Study 2, the effect of agreeableness on income was non-significant
for women. Thus, the evidence for any positive effect of low agreeableness on women’s income
is weak. Also, while men might benefit more than women from being disagreeable, they are also
penalized when they are highly agreeable. Study 3 demonstrated that this is the case even when
the possibility that men and women sort themselves into different types of occupations is taken
into account. The results from the first three studies receive added credibility from those of study
four in which the joint effects of agreeableness and gender on recommendations for higher-
status, implicitly better-paid positions closely paralleled their relationship with income.
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 34
Overall, across the first three studies, men who are one standard deviation below the
mean on agreeableness earn an average of 18.31% ($9,772) more than men one standard
deviation above the mean on agreeableness. Meanwhile, the “disagreeableness premium” for
women was only 5.47% ($1,828). Thus, the income premium for disagreeableness is more than
three times stronger for men than for women. There was also an apparent lack of cohort (age) or
temporal (year) effects on the gender differences observed. If the gender “double standard” were
improving with time, one would expect smaller gender differences in the agreeableness–earnings
relationship among younger workers or in more recently conducted studies. In terms of age
effects, the largest “gender gap” in absolute terms (i.e., the biggest difference in agreeableness–
earnings relationships between men and women) was for the oldest sample (Study 3), but the
largest gap in relative terms was for the youngest sample with the most recent data (Study 1).
Because our sample size for this analysis is at the study level, one cannot place too much weight
on these results. Nevertheless, these cumulative results tend to suggest that the agreeableness–
earnings relationship differs by gender similarly for younger and older employees, and for older
as well as newer studies.
The exploratory analysis of non-pay variables in Study 2 suggests that disagreeable men
earn more despite their not being more likely to supervise others or to receive promotions that
they are eligible for. On the down side, this finding bolsters the notion that disagreeable men are
more successful at negotiating pay. It is interesting that the adjunct analysis in Study 2 found that
agreeable people were less likely to ever have been fired from a job, which is generally a
negative event in terms of pay. It may be that disagreeable people are better able to turn job loss
into an advantage by using it as an opportunity to find a job with more advancement
opportunities or to negotiate for better pay their next position. The fact that unemployment spells
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 35
did not differ by agreeableness also suggests that disagreeable people somehow compensate for
being fired more often.
A more heartening conclusion from the supplementary findings in Study 2 is that
although agreeable men and women (and disagreeable men) earn less, they do not receive fewer
benefits in other aspects of their careers (nor, based on Study 3, in the psychosocial aspects of
their lives). There is, however, a strong caveat to findings in Study 2 due to the type of measures
available. We were only able to assess the effects of agreeableness on how many times
participants had not received promotions for which they were eligible. It is quite possible that
women and highly agreeable men did not report being passed over for promotion any more than
disagreeable men because they are less often in the position of being considered or expecting to
be considered for promotion, a possibility that seems even more likely in light of the findings in
Very little of the research on the influence of personality on income investigates the
source of those effects. In the case of disagreeableness, it is important to further explicate the
mechanisms behind the advantages it seems to confer on men in terms of income. The easiest
and, we think, most unlikely interpretation of our results is that persistent rudeness increases
men’s salaries. Some may wish the path to career success was so formulaic; however, as noted
earlier, disagreeable people behave disagreeably only slightly more often than agreeable people
(Fleeson & Gallagher, 2009). And, since agreeableness is a multi-faceted construct, it is not clear
that being rude is the mechanism by which low levels of the trait effect higher income. One
might predict stronger effects for assertiveness (Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001) than for
other facets of agreeableness such as politeness (DeYoung, Quilty, & Peterson, 2007). Also, as
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 36
suggested in Study 3, disagreeable people may value money more highly and, thus, make higher
investments in their extrinsic success. For instance, a disagreeable individual might choose to
move for a promising promotion that will put him at a distance from extended family while an
agreeable man might choose to stay put, concerned with balancing the desire for career
advancement with the motivation to maintain strong familial ties. Rudeness plays no part in that
equation for either the agreeable or the disagreeable person.
In general, there is little research on gender differences in the influence of personality on
career and life outcomes. Given the magnitude of the discrepancies revealed here, further
examination in this area is warranted. Similar patterns of differences may emerge for other
personality traits that overlap with cultural expectations regarding masculine and feminine
behavior and successful navigation in the workplace. In fact, while extraversion has a generally
positive relationship with salary (Ng et al., 2005), one study found that this was only the case for
men (Gelissen & Graaf, 2006). Another study found that, in mixed-sex contexts, self-monitoring
more positively influenced group status and negotiation outcomes for women than for men
(Flynn & Ames, 2006). In the case of agreeableness, and perhaps other traits as well, we think it
possible that women are more constrained in their career choices such that personality has less
influence. Take the example of moving for a promotion, offered in the preceding paragraph. An
agreeable man may choose to remain close to family. On the other hand, agreeable or not,
women’s career decisions related to relocation and other forms of investment are more sensitive
to parenting constraints and to their spouse’s job demands than are men’s decisions (Baldridge,
Eddleston, & Veiga, 2006; Maume, 2006).It is also important to examine the micro-processes
underlying the differential agreeableness effects by gender. For instance, our earlier arguments
rested on ample research suggesting that both men and women are likely to be penalized for
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 37
counterstereotypic behavior (Heilman & Okimoto, 2007; Heilman et al., 2004; Heilman &
Wallen, 2010; Parks-Stamm et al., 2008; Phelan et al., 2008; Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick,
1999, 2001). But there is also evidence that men are actually rewarded for altruism (Heilman &
Chen, 2005), which is a facet of agreeableness. Based on scenario ratings, Heilman and Chen
found that men who helped a coworker experiencing a serious, work-related problem actually
benefited from enhanced evaluations and rewards whereas women did not, apparently because
such behavior was simply expected from women. On one hand, these findings provide one
explanation why, in our studies, men high in agreeableness earn considerably more than highly
agreeable women. On the other hand, extending the logic from Heilman and Chen’s study to
ours, rewards for disagreeableness should accrue to women, but not to men; however,
disagreeable behavior is probably more risky, more fraught with ambivalence. Helping others
seems almost universally-prescribed, but it is rarely clear that a situation would be best handled
by behaving in an angry, demanding, or uncooperative fashion. Evaluations of the
appropriateness of such behavior may rest more heavily on the extent to which it is consistent
with gender norms.
Moreover, altruistic behavior may not be as strictly associated with femininity as other
aspects of agreeableness. Examples of male superheroes and “strong, silent” saviors abound in
popular culture. One can “save the day” in a manly way. There are no such equally and
unequivocally-favored prototypes of women behaving disagreeably. In addition, men who
engage in altruistic behavior in certain instances where that seems especially appropriate might
benefit from being seen to be willing to “go above and beyond,” particularly if the behavior can
be readily attributed to external causes (Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008), as in the Heilman and Chen
study. On the other hand, men who habitually violate gender norms by engaging in affiliative
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 38
behavior may be appreciated less for their citizenship and, rather, penalized for being overly
“feminine” (Heilman & Wallen, 2010). This is akin to evidence that men are often praised for
“helping” with child care (Coltrane, 1989, Deutsch & Saxon, 1998), but are derogated when
child care is their full-time pursuit (Brescoll & Louis-Uhlmann, 2005). Indeed, in contrast with
Heilman and Chen’s (2005) study, which investigated ratings of individuals based on a discreet
incident, the scenarios we presented to participants in Study 4 suggested habitual differences in
agreeableness. People might differ in their evaluations of others when asked to consider global
assessments versus behavior in particular situations. Only future research can shed light on
whether this is, indeed, the case.8
It is also possible that low scores on agreeableness scales may not translate into
correspondingly disagreeable behavior for women. There is evidence that women who fear
backlash for behaving counter to gender norms will behave in a more normative fashion
(Rudman & Fairchild, 2004; Moss-Rascusin & Rudman, 2010). It is likely that most women who
are low in agreeableness have learned through experience that competitive behavior is not
considered feminine. They may even have received negative feedback about such behavior at
work. As a result, they may “tone down” their behavior, thinking it a better strategy for
achieving their goals. If women who rate themselves low in agreeableness make more of an
effort to get along with others than disagreeable men, this could help explain why they reap little
benefit. Disagreeable women, for example, may make fewer demands in salary negotiations or
may not take the risk of voicing opinions that might draw disapproval than they would if they
were not concerned about backlash. Future research could, therefore, examine to what extent
women high in agreeableness are aware of the potential for backlash and the strategies they
adopt to minimize it.
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 39
Implications for Work and Society
Nice guys do not necessarily finish last, but they do finish a distant second in terms of
earnings. From a humanistic perspective, it seems remarkably unfair that men who are amiable
would be so heavily penalized for not conforming to gender norms. 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. Thus, exhortations for women not to be nice (Pfeffer,
2010) might be overblown. Nice girls might not get rich, but “mean” girls do not do much better.
Even controlling for human capital, marital status, and occupation, highly disagreeable women
do not earn as much as highly agreeable men. The gaps between the two (between agreeable men
and disagreeable women), in fact, are about as large as the within-gender gaps for men.
In spite of the limited instrumentality for women of behaving less agreeably, their
behaviors may be changing. Twenge (2001) found that 14% of the variance in assertiveness
among women was explained by changes among birth cohorts from 1931 to 1993. Assertiveness
rose steadily among women from 1968 to 1993 while there was no significant change for men;
some of the more recent measures showed no sex differences. Changes in women’s assertiveness
over time were related to changes in their sociocultural position, indicating that the assumption
of higher-status roles and entry into traditionally male occupations have shaped women’s
personality development. If women are becoming less nice simply by virtue of their rising social
status, it could be damaging to organizational effectiveness if large numbers of women are
stymied in their efforts to get ahead using the same tactics that work for their male colleagues.
Rather than a wholesale shift to less agreeable behavior, more appropriate advice for both
men and women who are agreeable might be to adopt a flexible repertoire of behaviors
appropriate to the context. For instance, agreeable people tend not to do as well at distributive
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 40
bargaining—as in the case of negotiating for pay—presumably because the value they place on
interpersonal relationships prevents them from making as many demands as they need to in order
to get the best outcomes for themselves (Barry & Friedman, 1998). Flynn and Ames (2006)
found that high self-monitoring women achieved better distributive outcomes, without
sacrificing integrative outcomes, partly by adjusting their level of assertiveness to that of their
interaction partner. The more assertive the partner, the more assertively the high self-monitoring
women behaved. This suggests that, rather than adopting a prescription to be aggressive in all
pay negotiations, agreeable people could take stock of the person they are negotiating with and
adapt their assertiveness level on an as-needed basis. Meanwhile, they do not have to assume that
all such situations require them to forgo the prosocial behavior that results in other valuable
outcomes positively associated with agreeableness, such as job satisfaction (Judge et al., 2002)
and workplace friendships (Klein, Lim, Saltz, & Mayer, 2004).
A primary limitation of this research is our focus on monetary success. In order to
achieve a more balanced perspective on the significance of agreeableness in the careers context,
future research should investigate whether agreeableness affects career outcomes other than
earnings. Solely gauging the relationship of agreeableness with earnings undermines other ways
in which people (and society) may benefit from their careers such as the accumulation of social
and human capital, impact in one’s chosen field, or degree of fulfillment.
While each study has its own methodological, empirical, and conceptual advantages, no
study is free of limitations. For example, an advantage of Study 1 was that prior income was
controlled, so that agreeableness predicted changes in income only after the trait measurement.
Studies 2 and 3 did not have this advantage, but Study 2 did control for job complexity while
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 41
Study 3 controlled for all of the Big Five traits and provided some insights into possible
paradoxes and explanatory mechanisms. Study 4 provided the rigor and control of experimental
manipulations, but only allowed consideration of a hypothetical recommendation by college
students with presumably little work experience. Thus, more confidence can be placed in the
results given the diversity of the studies; however, this very diversity means that no limitation of
one study can be fully answered by the other.
Third, a reviewer on a previous version of the manuscript suggested that since
disagreeable individuals promote their own interests to a greater degree than their more
agreeable counterparts, this may mean that disagreeable individuals are likely to over-report
(inflate) their income. While this is possible, most evidence suggests that agreeable, not
disagreeable, individuals are more prone to manage impressions (Holden & Passey, 2010).
Moreover, Graziano and Tobin (2002) conclude, “If agreeableness is contaminated by self-
favoring biases, the contamination is limited in scope” (p. 723). Thus, it does not appear likely
that the agreeableness – income results were observed primarily because disagreeable individuals
over-report their incomes. Nonetheless, in all three field studies, income was self-reported (either
on a questionnaire or to an interviewer).
Finally, we are mindful that much of our data are correlational, making it difficult to
corroborate our presumed causal ordering. Indeed, some evidence suggests that work situations
can affect personality (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005; Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2003) in
general, andreminding individuals about money may cause them to behave less cooperatively
(Vohs, Mead, & Goode, 2008). While the possibility of this reciprocality between agreeableness
and income must be acknowledged as a limitation, we undertook two steps to bolster our
presumed causal order. First, in Study 1, we controlled for income at the time that agreeableness
Agreeableness, Sex, and Income 42
was assessed.. Second, in Study 4, we manipulated agreeableness and gender as influences on
hiring recommendations so as to strengthen our inferences with an experimental design.
Nonetheless, we acknowledge that our study does not demonstrate causal order.
Overall, our research provides strong evidence that men earn a substantial premium for
being disagreeable while the same behavior has little effect on women’s income. In general,
whether agreeable or not, men still earn more than women. These tendencies hold across cohorts
and across occupations. Given the positive contributions made by agreeable people,
demonstrated in prior research, it seems that the income penalty for agreeableness is out of
proportion with its performance effects. Rather, for men and for women, the effects may be due
more to expectations for behavior appropriate to one’s gender. This research raises important
questions about the standards according to which people are evaluated and sheds further light on
the issue of wage inequalities. In particular, it serves as a caveat to popular sources of career
advice that either exhort people to be nice—or not. Closing the gender gap seems to hinge less
on changing women’s behavior than it does on changing the minds of decision makers.
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