NOTRE DAME, Ind. — It pays to be selfish, at least for husbands. Those are the findings, in a nutshell, of a new study just released by University of Notre Dame researchers. Virtually guaranteed to raise eyebrows and incite debate in homes across the country, the research concludes “disagreeable” married men who avoid pitching in at home usually end up having higher incomes than husbands who diligently help with household chores.
Focusing solely on heterosexual marriages, the study indicates that selfish husbands who avoid domestic chores have “more resources” to devote toward their careers. Consequently, they usually earn more money.
The use of the term “disagreeable” here is a reference to “agreeableness” — which is one of the “Big Five” dimensions used in psychology to describe someone’s personality. While someone who is agreeable is usually kind, generous, and sympathetic, disagreeable individuals are characterized by selfishness and competitiveness.
“Across two studies, we find evidence that disagreeable men tend to earn more money relative to their more agreeable male counterparts because they are more self-interested and less helpful to their wives at home, which allows for greater job involvement and, ultimately, higher pay,” lead author Brittany Solomon, a management professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, says in a university release. “This effect is even stronger among disagreeable men with more traditional gender role attitudes and when their wives are highly conscientious, presumably because in these cases their wives take on more household management and more seamlessly carry out the responsibilities.”
Being an unhelpful husband isn’t the suggestion here
These findings shouldn’t be misconstrued as saying that being selfish and disagreeable is a recipe for success. For instance, disagreeableness did not predict career success among more egalitarian men, men married to wives less willing to take on all the work, and men outside opposite-sex marriages.
“While disagreeableness in the workplace may lead some employees to success, those hoping to attain higher pay should at least hesitate before leaning into a disagreeable workplace persona,” Prof. Solomon warns. “Indeed, if self-interested and less communal work behavior was the only key to higher pay, then disagreeable men would tend to earn more, regardless of whether they were married, how they viewed gender roles or to whom they were married.”
This isn’t the first time a study links selfishness among men to greater financial/career success. Once one digs a little deeper though, this effect is hard to understand. Why does being selfish often lead to success for men when disagreeability is the exact opposite of supposedly valued workplace traits like leadership and cooperation?
“Our findings build on the conventional wisdom that organizations seem to reward disagreeable workplace behaviors and highlight the importance of social exchange at home for success at work,” Prof. Solomon explains. “Our research suggests that organizations acknowledge the role that spousal exchange plays in individual success and points to the potential for organizations to refocus efforts to fuel job involvement on lightening the burden of at-home responsibilities. Doing so could allow employees to preserve resources that could then be invested in their jobs.
“Presumably, this type of initiative would be especially beneficial to those who do not have the persona and gender that, we found, naturally drives individually advantageous spousal exchange — that is, everyone other than disagreeable, married men,” she continues. “To help those who do not have the built-in at-home arrangement that enhances job involvement and pay, organizations may consider investing in infrastructure that helps establish more level career-related playing fields.”
How the workplace can play a role in marriage expectations
In summation, Prof. Solomon and her team theorize that providing more “non-work resources,” like preparing lists of reputable providers for home services and maintenance or establishing child care programs, may help less-selfish husbands gain the same resource advantages as they’re more disagreeable counterparts.
“Practices that situate employees more equitably outside of work may offer more employees the opportunity to succeed,” Prof. Solomon expands. “Also, some research shows that men are stigmatized for taking advantage of flex work policies. Changing the organizational culture, in addition to implementing such policies, may influence calculations within a marriage or partnership about whose career should take priority and who should do more at home. Consequently, organizations may also help support initiatives aimed to promote gender diversity and inclusion, especially efforts to reduce male dominance in high-income positions.”
Society has come a long way since the days of the prototypical housewife cooking and cleaning all day to satiate a husband who demands a spotless home and piping hot meal upon returning home each evening – and that’s indisputably a positive development. This work just goes to show how much influence one’s partner can have on their career success.
“Professionals often publicly thank their spouses when receiving achievement awards or earning promotion,” Prof. Solomon concludes. “And, at least for disagreeable men, our findings quantify the truth behind this sentiment.”
The study is published in Personnel Psychology.