While Gordon Gecko famously believed that “Greed is good,” it’s actually not a great attribute to have if you really want to make money. Selfish people tend to have lower incomes than their less-selfish counterparts, according to a new study.
“In research on human cooperation and its evolution, it is often taken for granted that selfishness pays,” study author Kimmo Eriksson of Stockholm University told Psy Post.
“When I realized — in my hotel room at a conference about social dilemmas in Zurich in 2013 — that this could be tested using existing large publicly available datasets, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep that night.”
“Generosity pays: Selfish people have fewer children and earn less money” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study included 6,000 individuals from data collected by the General Social Survey, the European Social Survey, U.K. Household Longitudinal Study and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
Selfish people were identified as less likely to donate to charity, volunteer, and do simple tasks such as offer their seats to other people on trains or buses.
Researchers determined that prosocial people were more apt to have higher incomes and higher fertility rates than selfish individuals. The people who made the most money were moderately prosocial.
The team also found that people generally believe that selfish people have the highest incomes.
“The question that still needs to be addressed is why selfishness is bad for fertility and income,” Eriksson noted. “Unselfishness helps you to build stronger social relations, and it seems plausible that this accounts for better outcomes in other respects. However, this hypothesis cannot be tested in our data.”
Too Much Optimism Is Also A Problem
An unrelated study found that business owners with above average optimism earned around 30 percent less than people with below-average optimism. According to the University of Bath School of Management, “Optimists are more likely than most to mistakenly think they have found a good business opportunity and that they have what it takes to exploit it successfully. Realists and pessimists are less likely to proceed with unpromising entrepreneurial ventures.”
“As a society we celebrate optimism and entrepreneurial thinking, but when the two combine it pays to take a reality check,” commented Dr. Chris Dawson, Associate Professor in Business Economics at the University of Bath’s School of Management, “Pessimism may not generally be seen as a desirable trait, but it does protect people from taking on poor entrepreneurial projects.”