Aug. 16, 2011— -- "Nice guys finish last" the old adage goes, and a new study suggests there just might be some truth to this dictum — at least when it comes to workplace earnings.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Behavior, found that men who described themselves as nice -- agreeable, cooperative and kind -- earned 18 percent less than men who characterized themselves as disagreeable and aggressive. Women earned the least amount of money, but women who called themselves disagreeable made about 5 percent more than their more friendly female counterparts.
Timothy A. Judge, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame and lead author of the study, said the most significant finding showed that what works for men -- disagreeableness -- didn't work as well for women.
Two factors probably contribute to this, he said.
"First, I think people interpret disagreeable behavior by men and women differently," Judge wrote in an email to ABCNews.com. "Disagreeable men are [seen as] tough-minded and good negotiators. Disagreeable women are seen as "bit**es" or labeled in a similarly derogatory way. Think of Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton. Appropriate behavior is somewhat gendered."
"It's age old — women who are assertive get perceived as being aggressive," said Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. "It is a culturally bound factor that is not fair but highly prevalent."
Data from nearly 3,500 workers, ranging from recent college grads to those near retirement, were used in the investigation. The researchers collected the data from three American surveys -- the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth, the National Survey of Midlife Development and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey -- which consisted of self-reported facts regarding work experience, salary and other personal information.
While findings like these often attract attention, Martin Binks, clinical director and CEO of Binks Behavioral Health PLLC, cautioned against taking these findings as fact.