Researchers from the University of Stockholm are suggesting the concept that selfish people accrue more money thanks to their thrifty ways is nonsense after it found that people who engage in selfless behaviour are in fact more likely to receive a higher income and have larger families.
Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study “Generosity pays: Selfish people have fewer children and earn less money“ focuses on selfishness from an economical and evolutionary perspective.
The results were based on analyses of four major studies of 60,000 Americans and Europeans, which measured selfishness through attitudes and reported behaviour.
In collaboration with the Institute for Futures Studies and the University of South Carolina, researchers at Stockholm University looked at how selfishness relates specifically to income and fertility.
It found that unselfish people tended to have higher fertility rates and higher incomes than selfish people, although the largest incomes were found among those classed as moderately unselfish.
”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,” explains Kimmo Eriksson, study author and researcher at the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University.
“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."
The researchers also examined the expectations of people to see if they aligned with the data. The results showed that people generally have the correct expectation that selfish people have fewer children, but many incorrectly believed that selfish people will make more money.
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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,” says co-author Brent Simpson of University of South Carolina.
“And it is of course debatable how unselfish it really is to have more children.”
This isn’t the first time the connection between wealth and selfishness has been investigated.
Last year, a study by the University of California found that people with lower incomes tend to find happiness in other people, through feelings of love and compassion, while rich people find theirs in more self-involved traits, such as pride.
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