08/16/2011 12:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nice Women Finish Last At Work, Study Says

While some studies defy expectations, others confirm long-held stereotypes.

In a paper that will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled "Do Nice Guys -- And Gals -- Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income," for example, researchers found that the answer to that timeworn question was a resounding "yes."

Results indicated that disagreeable people -- men in particular -- earn substantially more in the workforce than their agreeable colleagues.

But the study affirmed another long-held belief as well: in case you were in doubt, gender double standards still exist in the workplace.

While data collected in the 2008 Census showed that American women earned approximately 77 cents to a man’s dollar -- with a gap that was larger for Latina and African American women -- the agreeability study compared how personality was linked to gendered wage inequality.

In one part of the study, researchers had 460 undergrads at Southeastern University complete a study in which they had to act as human resource managers for a fictional company. They were given descriptions of eight equally-experienced candidates' qualifications as well as the individuals' behavior towards other people. The students were then asked to determine whether or not the candidates should be fast-tracked to management positions. Agreeable candidates were less likely to be recommended for advancement. Female candidates in general were less likely to be recommended.

Although disagreeable men earned 18.31 percent ($9,772) more than agreeable men, disagreeable women only earned 5.47 percent (or $1,828) more than agreeable women. Furthermore, regardless of whether they were agreeable or disagreeable, women still earned less than even the disadvantaged "nice guys." The gap between women, generally, and agreeable men was almost as large as the agreeable-disagreeable gap among the men.

"The trick is that the premium for being disagreeable is much stronger for men than it is for women," the report stated. 

Timothy Judge, a professor of management who specialized in personality, moods, emotions, leadership, career and life success at the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame; Beth Livingston, an assistant professor Cornell University’s Department of Human Resource Management and Charlice Hurst, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario authored the study, which looked at data from three surveys that sampled approximately 10,000 workers over a 20 year period. The study was broken into four different components to control for levels of job responsibility and other personality traits.

The results held true in all four parts of the study. While for men it quite literally pays to be contrarian, women are at a disadvantage no matter how they act in the workplace (although "disagreeable" women are at a slight advantage to nicer women.)

Researchers clarified in the study, however, that they don't think it necessarily pays to be rude, but rather to be assertive more than polite.

So what does this mean for working women?

"If you’re a disagreeable man, you’re considered a tough negotiator," explained Judge. "But, the perception is that if a woman is agreeable, she gets taken advantage of, and if she is disagreeable, she’s considered a control freak or 'the B-word.'"

And unfortunately, the study implied that things aren't getting better over time.

Since the results were consistent across all age groups -- ranging from early twenties to senior citizens -- younger generations evidently aren't seeing more gender equity.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Judge said that, based on his research, he is sure that the disparity among disagreeable men and women exists. The next step is to understand why.

Here’s Judge explaining why he thinks assertive women are treated differently from assertive men: