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Department ofEconomics


Does Empathy Pay? Evidence on Empathy and Salaries of Recent College Graduates

Linda Kamas and Anne Preston

Journal of Labor Research 41(1), 169-188

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This paper examines linkages between empathy and salaries of recent college graduates. While it has been suggested that greater empathy enhances performance because empathic individuals work well with others and are good leaders, it is also possible that they will be less productive due to lower motivation to compete for pecuniary rewards or because they are considered to be too accommodating. Also, more empathic individuals may choose occupations that are more socially oriented and less well paid. We find a large, significant negative relationship between empathy and earnings for both men and women. While we cannot pinpoint the cause for this strong correlation or reach conclusions about causation, we find that empathic individuals choose college majors and sectors of employment that pay less. However, gender, major, and sector together do not account for the full negative relationship between empathy and salaries. While it seems likely that preferences lead more empathic people to choose lower paying occupations, we cannot eliminate the possibility that greater empathy has a negative effect on productivity.

LSB Research, ECON, Linda Kamas, 2020