A new study finds that selfish people tend to make less money than their more giving peers. They also tend to have fewer kids.
For the study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers in Sweden and the US looked at survey data on roughly 60,000 people in the US and Europe.
The researchers, Kimmo Eriksson; Irina Vartanova; Pontus Strimling; and Brent Simpson, wanted to know: How was prosociality – i.e. interest in other people, the opposite of selfishness – connected to both income and parenthood?
To measure prosociality, the researchers focused on prosocial motivations – for example, believing that people should be willing to help others who are less fortunate – as well as prosocial behaviour – for example, actually donating money to charity.
Results showed that the most prosocial/least selfish people had the most children. When it came to money, for the most part, people who were moderately prosocial – i.e. mostly unselfish – earned the highest income.
Two of the surveys the researchers analysed were conducted over an extended period of time. And while this doesn’t necessarily prove that prosociality directly causes you to earn more money or have more kids, they do seem to be related in some way.
As for why less selfish people should earn more and have more kids, that’s beyond the scope of this study. Yet the researchers cite the work of Wharton professor Adam Grant, who has found that “givers” are generally more successful than “takers.”
Grant’s insights line up with the new finding that moderately prosocial people make more money. Grant has said that it’s important to be an effective giver, or else you run the risk of burning out. For example, Grant recommends grouping your favours and doing them all on a single day so they’re less likely to interfere with your personal work.
The researchers behind the new study also conducted an experiment to see if people are aware that prosociality pays off. Interestingly, people generally believed that selfishness was linked to more money (incorrect) and fewer children (correct).
To be sure, the study findings don’t suggest that people who opt not to have kids are egomaniacs (obsessed with their own importance). That’s hardly the case. Nor is a small pay cheque evidence that you must be a selfish human.
But, especially if you’re thinking about how to succeed in the workplace, it’s worth being aware of the importance of relationships with other people – how you can help them and how they can help you.
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