A new international study finds that unselfish behavior has rewards beyond being the “right” thing to do. Researchers discovered unselfish people tend both to have more children and to receive higher salaries, in comparison to more selfish people.
Investigators from Stockholm University, the Institute for Futures Studies and the University of South Carolina, say their findings run counter to many theories that have suggested selfish people manage to get their hands on more money through their selfishness.
“The result is clear in both the American and the European data. The most unselfish people have the most children and the moderately unselfish receive the highest salaries. And we also find this result over time: The people who are most generous at one point in time have the largest salary increases when researchers revisit them later in time,” said Kimmo Eriksson, Ph.D., a researcher at Stockholm University.
“Generosity pays: Selfish people have fewer children and earn less money,” said Eriksson. The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Unselfishness is defined in the study as the desire to help others because you care about their welfare. Therefore, attitudes concern how important a person thinks it is to help others and care about their welfare. The behaviors concerned how often and how much the person engaged in various help behaviors, e.g. giving money or their time to help others.
Prior studies have proposed that unselfish people are happier and have better social relationships.
The new study focuses on unselfishness from an economical and evolutionary perspective and looked at how selfishness relates to income and fertility.
Selfishness was measured partly through attitudes and partly through reported behaviors. The results are based on analyses of four major studies of Americans and Europeans.
“In a separate study, we examined the expectations of ordinary people to see if their expectations aligned with our data,” said researcher Pontus Strimling, Ph.D.
“The results of this study showed that people generally have the correct expectation that selfish people have fewer children, but erroneously believe that selfish people will make more money.
“It’s nice to see that generosity so often pays off in the long run,” he said.
The authors believe that improved social relationships may be the key to generous peoples’ success from an economic perspective, but note that their research does not definitely answer this question.
“Future research will have to delve deeper into the reasons why generous people earn more, and look at whether the link between unselfishness, higher salaries and more children also exists in other parts of the world. And, it is of course debatable how unselfish it really is to have more children,” said co-author Brent Simpson, Ph.D., of the University of South Carolina.
Source: Stockholm University/EurekAlert