Stupid Reasons Why People Make More Money

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Life just isn’t fair. That’s not just my opinion; you just have to look around you to see who’s doing well and who isn’t. Sometimes you scratch your head and wonder “how is that guy running this place?” or “why isn’t she in charge of this project, she’s awesome?”

The fact is, it’s not just our education and work experience that defines our ability to make money. There are lots of other factors at play, some of which we have absolutely no control over. Now, I have avoided stupid WAYS people make money; that list would be too long (Pet Rock, frivolous law suits, inheriting it). This is more about the reasons why people around you, at work, are on a bigger salary. Some of these might surprise you, others may make you really angry. All I can say is, don’t shoot the messenger. (See also: 5 Ways Everyone Can Make More Money)

1. Being Mean, Less Agreeable or Just Plain Rude

This one hit the headlines recently, and it blew me away. A new study has revealed that men who measure below average on “agreeableness” earn roughly 18% more ($9,772 more annually based on the sample) than guys who are considered “nice.”

The study also found that mean women earn more than their nicer counterparts as well, although not to the same degree. It equates to 5% more per year, or $1,828.

So, why the extra cash for the bad temper?

For men, it’s actually considered more masculine to be a bad guy. In other words, the nicer you are, the less “manly” and therefore not as fitting to the expectations of your role. Men should be aggressive go-getters, the hunters who bring home the bacon. It also implies that men who are mean are better at negotiations, especially concerning salary.

On the other hand, women who show the same conduct are stepping out of their traditional or expected behavior models, and that is reflected in the lower figures. Mean women are considered bossy, bitchy, over-compensating for something, and all of those other rotten stereotypes. But meaner women still earn more, which could again be explained by abilities to negotiate and push for promotions and more money.

This really does prove that nice guys, and girls, finish last. But hey, at least they have friends and a conscience. 


2. Being Blessed With Good Looks

No surprises here. For as long as I can remember, beautiful people have been treated way better by our society. Scientists say that the main reason is genetics. We are driven to want to reproduce with people who we believe will give us healthy children, and beauty is directly associated with health. Real beauty is also rare, and we covet it. And beauty is also related to trust, which makes absolutely no sense to me. Perhaps the old fairy stories of wicked witches and beautiful princesses, coupled with ugly trolls and handsome princes, has something to do with that complete pile of hogwash.

But all of that’s neither here not there when it comes to actual job performance, intelligence, or skill. What’s on the outside is no reflection of what’s going on inside, and to hire people based on looks (unless it’s modeling or something else that demands it) is plain silly.

What’s even sillier, though, is giving these same beautiful people more money, more promotions, and more opportunities. And yet it happens, year after year.

Author Daniel Hamermesh from Yale University has been researching the issue. His study “Beauty in the Labor Market” concludes that beautiful people will make $230,000 more in their lifetimes than average-looking people.

Daniel found that attractive men earn 9% more than unattractive men, and attractive women earn 4% more than unattractive women. And all because they were fortunate to be born with genes that make them appear more pleasing to people in our society.

I’m under 6 ft, I’m bald, and I’m a bit overweight. Someone with my skill set, but the rugged good looks and physique of Superman, is going to be a far more attractive prospect in every sense of the word, and that equates to more money. Is that fair? Nope. But life isn’t fair.

Read more about the subject from Freakonomics or Yahoo! Finance.

3. Being Part of the Family

Ahh, nepotism. It exists in almost every place I’ve ever worked, and it can’t be escaped. It’s just natural human behavior to want to give more to people who you care about. It’s also the reason so many people in the entertainment, political, and corporate worlds rise to the top. How many famous actors would be around if their mom or dad hadn’t been in the business? How many musicians would not have been given that big break? How many CEOs owe their current status to family members with power? And how many politicians got their position through family ties? It’s amazing to think that in a country that’s home to over 307 million people, we ended up with Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. in the White House.

Even if your family can’t give you a great job, they can often give you a way in. The 80s movie The Secret of My Success tells the story of a young guy who gets a job in the mailroom and ends up becoming the president. Sure, it’s fiction, but when no one’s hiring, having that all-important “in” is essential.

Is nepotism legal? Yep. There’s nothing to say you can’t hire family members. Giving those family members preferential treatment is illegal. But there has to be substantial evidence that the CEO's son did not deserve the pay raise and promotion he got, and that’s a battle most people don’t want to fight.

4. Talking a Lot and Saying Nothing

I hate this one, because I’m not good at it. I wish I was. It’s a skill that can be used to climb the ladders in corporations, where sticking your neck out is often punished, but being seen to be making a contribution, however pointless, is rewarded.

If you work in a corporate environment, you can easily pick these people out. For a start, they walk with the kind of confident strut that makes you think they’re invincible. They’re often seen laughing and chatting in the corridors of power, spending inordinate amounts of time with the important people in the company. And in meetings, they have something to say about everything, but they have absolutely no point of view.

Here’s a prime example. You’re in a meeting and a business proposal has just been presented. There’s quiet. Dead quiet. That’s because everyone is waiting for the person with real power to give his or her opinion, and that gives everyone else their cue to either jump on board, or reject it.

The CEO looks at Brad, our strutting office weasel, and asks for his opinion. That’s when he says, “Yeah, interesting proposal. I’d definitely like to take the time to explore it further. There’s a lot to think about, some avenues I’ve been pondering myself, and all in all I think it deserves some debate.”

The CEO says, “I hated it!”

Brad says, “Absolutely, as I was saying, interesting, but for all the wrong reasons. We need to explore why he went down this path, I’ve been thinking about this and need to talk to you later about shutting some of these avenues down.”

Or the CEO says, “I loved it!”

Brad says, “Oh yeah, me too. Some really interesting ideas in there, a few of them I’ve already been contemplating myself and I’d like to talk to you more about these ideas later.”

Brad (and you know what your own version of Brad is called), can talk in circles for days and never really say anything. But in corporate America, being seen to say a lot is great for your career, as long as you don’t actually commit to anything. It will get you raises, promotions, and a shiny bonus. Meanwhile, the guy who just got fired because one of his last five ideas didn’t work out, well, he’s kicking himself that he didn’t keep his mouth shut. As one beautiful demotivational poster once said, “the tallest blade of grass gets cut first.”

5. Being a Man

Sadly, having that XY chromosome is all you need in modern society to make more money. We’re in the year 2011, and yet men are still earning more than their female counterparts in almost every field. It equates to around 77 cents for each dollar earned by a man. That’s clearly unacceptable, but it’s unlikely to change by any big degree over the next decade, if past performance is anything to go by. This is from an article published earlier this month by the National Women’s Law Center:

Data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show that, on average, a female worker still makes only 77 cents for each dollar earned by a comparable male worker. Indeed, we've seen virtually no progress in closing the gap in the last three years, and the gap has remained stagnant over the last decade. The numbers indicate an even more distressing reality for many American women when race is taken into account: Compared to each dollar earned by the average white male, a white woman makes 77.6 cents, a black woman makes 62.3 cents, and a Hispanic woman makes 54 cents.

Why are we still seeing such a gap? Clearly, it’s still a man’s world. Actually, it’s still a white man’s world if you look at the bigger picture. And a few HR people I talked to explained that women will always have to struggle because they’re the ones who are prone to take more time off for health issues and family. Maybe one day, it will all even out. I know I work with many women who are absolutely fantastic at the jobs they do, and to think they aren’t getting paid as much as the men who they’re equal to, well, that’s just not acceptable.

6. Sucking Up

I’ve saved the worst for last. It seems implausible that managers and higher-ups would fall for the butt-kissing routines as often as they do, but I’ve seen it in every company I’ve ever worked for. Sometimes it’s subtle, like complimenting hair, clothes, or shoes, or laughing at a flat joke. Sometimes it’s a little more obvious, like asking a few questions in presentations that are clearly designed to flatter the presenter.

And then, there’s the creepy, blatant, all-out sucking up. The kind of smooching that makes everyone else physically sick. But it works. These sycophants have made a career out of it, and they’re climbing the ladder by brown-nosing. It’s so dumb, because it has absolutely nothing at all to do with performance or ability. But human beings, most of them anyway, like to surround themselves with things that make them feel good. These “things” just so happen to be people who are leap-frogging over you and get paid for it.

Well, that’s my big list of stupid reasons. What dumb reasons have you encountered that ensure people get more cash in their paychecks?

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Stupid Reasons Why People Make More Money

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Ray Jamali's picture

Our version of "Brad" is "John" he fits in most of these columns...with the exception of good looks and being part of the family....he is Rude....obnoxious...talks all day with nothing to say...biggest kiss A** and is hated by pretty much everyone at work except senior management...and continues to get promotions

Guest's picture

I think that #5 has been stated so many ways that people think it is the gospel. It's not. In fact, the gender gap in wages is a lot more complicated than "men make more." For instance, it is also true that men tend to work more hours on average than women. So if you just compare generic salary figures and don't account for this, it looks like women make a lot less. However, if you do control for it, (depending on the source you look at) women are making as much or more than men. This is not to say that men don't work more for some other unfair reason (e.g., because people wrongly believe them to be more competent than women and thus schedule them for more hours) but I think it is worth mentioning that this is not a simple black and white question.

Guest's picture

A lot of this sounds so very high school, but the office has a lot more in common with high school than we realize. How very, very sad.

Guest's picture

Nepotism and favoratism is not illegal.

Guest's picture

It's a white man's world? What an unfair, totally unrealistic view. The "everything is so much better if you're white" idea is antiquated and out of touch.

Guest's picture

I sense jelousy in the air… Focus on negativity is just going to bring you more negativity into your life. Relax, be laid back, and start earning more ;)

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

I think the being mean is really a functional thing. That is, the meaner you are, the less other people will slack off on you. They will finish your projects first, they will make sure it's top notch, they won't try to push back on you. They know you'll be a raging you-know-what if you do, and they don't want any part of that.

But if you're nice, they're more likely to push your project back in favor of the angry client to create less static for themselves.