A study correlating personality traits with financial data found that agreeable people had lower savings, higher debt and higher bankruptcy rates. Christopher Intagliata reports.
Are you an agreeable person—you know, a nice guy? If so, a logical follow-up might be: how are your finances? And here's why: "Agreeable people have lower savings, they have higher debt, and they're also more likely to go bankrupt or default on their loans."
Sandra Matz is a computational social scientist at the Columbia Business School in New York City. Using a combination of questionnaires and bank data, she and her colleague Joe Gladstone found that people who score as more agreeable on personality tests have a better chance of ending up in dire financial straits—especially if they are low-income to begin with.
The researchers also combined personality data on millions of people in the U.S. and the U.K. with regional data on how many people were unable to pay their debts. And they found, again, that the nicer a county or local area's people on average, the worse their finances.
Matz thinks a factor could be that agreeable people just don't care much about money. Maybe they pick up the tab more often, or loan money when they can't afford to. They're generous to a fault.
So how do you get them to wise up?
"One way we could reframe this is saying, don't care about money just for yourself, but care about it for your family, care about it for the people you love. Because if you mismanage your money it's not just going to affect you, but it’s also going to affect all the people you care about, and that you love deeply."
Which might translate agreeable people's superpower—caring about other people—into better financial sense. The results are in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [Sandra C. Matz and Joe J. Gladstone, Nice Guys Finish Last: When and Why Agreeableness Is Associated With Economic Hardship]
If Matz does succeed in teaching nice people to be more stingy, who then will pick up the tab? "Then it's a matter of negotiating, then it should be more equally distributed. So if the agreeable person says I can't pay all the time, I only want to do that once in a while, but I also want you to give something back, because that's what makes a relationship a relationship, and not a one way street."
Which might mean agreeable people need to get a little more comfortable having disagreeable conversations.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]