Conscientious and nice? Doesn’t pay!

The nicer you are the worse you are likely to be paid. That’s one conclusion from one of the most detailed studies ever undertaken into the relationship between personality and pay.

Researchers at ISER have just published Explaining personality pay gaps in the UK, a study that shows clearly that nicer people are on average paid less. And it seems that even being conscientious does not provide any statistically significant pay reward.

Using the British Household Panel Survey, Dr Cheti Nicoletti and Dr Alita Nandi’s research looks at nearly 3000 men aged between 24 and 64 living and working in the UK. By using information on people’s personality traits called the Big-Five (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), they classify people into different personality groups (e.g., high agreeable and low agreeable, high extrovert and low extrovert).

The research showed that those people who were nice earned approximately 6% less which equated to an average of 72p less per hour. The same pay penalty applied to people with a high degree of neuroticism. Extroverts and those open to experience were paid the best, with those open to experience earning 9% more than those who were not open, a difference of £1.04 per hour.

All these pay differences except for openness to experience persist even after controlling for a large set of characteristics such as level of education, occupation, work experience, previous unemployment, training, and other personal and job characteristics.

Commenting on the findings, Chief Research Officer Cheti Nicoletti said:

“The results clearly show that agreeableness and neuroticism are penalized in the workplace while extroversion is rewarded. There seems to be a sticky floor effect for highly neurotic people and highly introvert people. Our findings also suggest that emotional stability and extroversion are personality traits better rewarded in low paid occupations. While it is generally considered fair that workers with better cognitive abilities or education be paid more; unequal pay across workers with different personality traits, but who are otherwise identical, could be considered unfair.”

The ISER team is cautious about making any policy prescriptions about encouraging the development of certain personality traits based on these results alone as these rewards and penalties pertain only to the labor market and not to other meaningful aspects of life. Dr Nandi explains:

“For example, while agreeableness is penalized in the labor market, it may make a person more socially acceptable, increase her social networks and finally lead to better mental health and well-being.”



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