Generosity Pays: Selfless People Tend to Make More Money

The most unselfish people have the most children and the moderately unselfish receive the highest salaries.


(Liderina /

What if by giving more, we got more in return? It may seem counterintuitive, but a new study confirms that generous people actually earn more money.

Researchers from Stockholm University, the Institute for Future Studies, and the University of South Carolina teamed up to find out if generosity really pays off. The results, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveal that unselfish people tend both to have more children and earn higher salaries in comparison to selfish people.

The study looks at unselfishness, a word they defined as the desire to help others because you care about their welfare. Therefore, attitudes that concern how important a person thinks it is to help others and care about their welfare. The behaviors refer to how often and how much the person engaged in various help behaviors such as giving money or their time to help.

“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,” explains Kimmo Eriksson, a researcher at the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University and one of the authors of the study.

Previous psychological and sociological research has shown that selfless people feel happier and have better social relationships, but scientists can now see the benefits of generosity in other areas of life including income and fertility.

“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 is nice to see that generosity so often pays off in the long run,” says Pontus Strimling, a researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies and co-author behind the study.

The researchers believe that prosocial behaviors help generous people in succeeding from an economic perspective. Although the study does not definitively answer this question, it makes sense that unselfish people, who tend to give their time and energy more willingly to help others would thrive in business relationships and teamwork settings. On the other hand, acting in self-interest has poorer outcomes including lower incomes.

Co-author, Brent Simpson of the University of South Carolina expands, “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.”

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