The $270,000 masculinity problem

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There’s an article in Harvard Business Review using data on men and personality traits since the 1920s to figure out this eternal question: “What determines how you earn more?” Well, here’s the article link, in case you want to see all the methodology and background. Cool. What I’m going to do is point you to two parts then tie them together.

Part A:

Consider two men in the Terman study, who are equal on all background characteristics and all traits, except for extraversion. The man who is average on this trait will earn $600,000 more over a lifetime than his more introverted peer (whose extraversion is, say, in the bottom 20% of the distribution). This effect size corresponds to about 15% of lifetime earnings.

OK. Remember that on extroversion.

Now Part B:

I also found that more agreeable men, who tend to be friendly and helpful to others, have significantly lower earnings than less agreeable men. The man who is very agreeable (in the top 20%) will earn about $270,000 less over a lifetime than the average man.

OK. Got both? Let’s talk.

This is not a good intersection right here

So basically, a back-slapping sales-type guy (a high extrovert) who isn’t agreeable or helpful to other people (Part B) can make about $870,000 more than someone more introverted and helpful.

That’s a pretty nice house or some private schools right there, no?

So basically, at the broadest level, men have no real incentive to:

  • Be more thoughtful (introversion)
  • Read emotions (same)
  • Help others
  • Be agreeable

Who tends to run most companies?


Who tends to occupy most of the “decision-making slots?”


What ultimately shapes “a culture” of a place?

The behaviors of the top people — and the behaviors they tolerate.

Do you see where this is becoming a problem?

But the goal is money, right?

Sure, sure. The goal is usually money. But the problem is, as time has gone on, we’re spending more and more time at work or on tasks related to work. A lot of people are probably putting up 12 hours/day at work. When you’re spending that much time associated with work, you need some degree of:

  • Human connection
  • Generosity
  • Friendship
  • Collaboration
  • People being agreeable

But it seems these things are almost directly in opposition to men getting the scratch.

So does the scratch matter, or does the overall environment matter?

The scratch usually matters more. Everyone’s got an individual hierarchy of needs in an achievement-driven culture, and that’s usually going to come before the broader needs of a place where you might only work for 3.6 years.

Isolation at work

Not everyone is like this. Remember on Mad Men when someone called Draper “a bully in a suit?” Those are the guys — usually because they’re tied to sales — who tend to rise up at companies. But not all of us are like that, nor can we all deal with it well.

What happens then?

See, neither of these is good for the company. They either lose knowledge or lose productivity. (No one is productive when they feel isolated and sad.) But then the company doesn’t care, because those Don Drapers are still bringing in the revenue.

Tough little circle.

Can we fix this?

Are you asking me if we can fix masculinity or traditionally male attitudes towards work?

No, not right now.

The essence of the problem is how men process emotion and what work is to them.

I call that the “Boys Don’t Cry” problem, as a sidebar.

But look, if you can make about $900K more over a career by being a back-slapping dick who doesn’t help others, most guys are gonna take that and run with it. That’s just reality.

This is why terms like “our collaborative culture of innovation…” are such complete bullshit.

That’s not what gets you up there. It’s not the path to individual minting.

And anything about the demise of culture, or the lack of one, starts right there.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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