Today’s Economix blog over at the New York Times asks, Do Nice Gals Finish Last? Nancy Folbre, an economist at UMass Amhurst, explains that social scientists have long observed how the aggressive “Machiavellian personality” more typical to men tends to improve economic success, increasing both efforts to demand higher pay and a propensity to lie, cheat and steal. Women, meanwhile, are more agreeable and altruistic than men—traits that are likely to increase productivity, but impair bargaining power.
Evidence is now mounting on the impact of non-cognitive traits such as personality on earnings.
Some personality traits — like conscientiousness — are likely to increase productivity. But other traits, including Machiavellianism and aggressiveness, can increase earnings via a more direct route.
In her new book, The Curse of the Good Girl, girl advocate Rachel Simmons explains how that pressure to be “nice” begins at adolescence. Young women, Simmons contends, force themselves to fit the mold of modest, selfless, rule-following “good girl” for fear of being labeled a “bitch.” But in the real world, as Folbre points out, it’s precisely those bitch-like (Machiavellian?) qualities that help people get ahead. Where this “curse” leaves women is with imbalanced salaries, lower titles, and shorter professional trajectories.
“This generation of young women has had it ingrained in them that they must thrive within a ‘yes, but’ framework: yes, be a go getter, but don’t come on too strong. Yes, accomplish, but don’t brag about it,” says Simmons. “The result is that young women are holding themselves back, saying, ‘I shouldn’t say this, ask for this, do this, it will make me unlikable, or a bitch, or an outcast.’”
What do you think: Is it possible to avoid the Good Girl curse?