Time for a quick psychology test. Imagine being offered two jobs. In terms of working hours, duties, location, and career prospects, Job A is absolutely identical to Job B. In fact, the only difference between the two positions is the disparity between your salary, and that of your future co-workers.

In Job A, your annual pay will be $50,000 and your colleagues will be earning $30,000. In Job B, you will be earning $60,000, and your fellow employees will be on $80,000.

Update: This morning I asked ‘Would you be more tempted by Job A or Job B? ‘ – but now I am going to change the question to ‘Which job do you think will make you feel happier, Job A or Job B?’


  1. Job B. Why should I care about being the least-earning member of the team, if it means I get 10.000 more? Okay, job A will probably come with some more status in the eyes of colleagues, but all that means is having to live up to that and having to contend with envy and gossip. Job B, on the other hand, has me start out with a nice paycheck, and if I prove to be as good as my colleagues, I may eventually make even more.

    ‘Top dog’, even if it’s just in how much one makes, isn’t a position I’d like to be in. It seems to create hostility towards all but the most social of people. I have Asperger’s — I’m not that well-versed in the intricacies of social networking. If you’re a bit lower on the ladder, people tend to be more helpful and forgiving, which is a good thing if you have to work with them every day.

  2. Interesting in the light of Susa Boyle, who got an emotional break down after “just” getting 2nd.

    I would take B IF the rest of the world were not earning 80 as well. I could deal with the relativity issue as long as I gained from it, which I would if I was “richer” than most people. And as long as I was actually working harder and more concentrated ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. I’d take Job B. There’s no way I would turn down the extra $10,000. Plus, if I’m earning less than my coworkers, I’m more likely to get a raise in the future. And, I’m happier when people like me, and earning more than others can cause bitterness and jealousy. But really, both jobs being equal, total income earned is most important to me, and that’s Job B.

  4. Yeah, Job B, ditto all around. My expected value calculation isn’t changed by what other people are making, unless that in some way affected other things (maybe … my boss would think I was a wuss for taking a job worth $20k less than my coworkers, and eventually fire me because I couldn’t stand up for myself?). I think that’s all been caveated out though.

  5. B. Robin nailed it–both higher initial income and better odds of future raises! Psychology aside, the financial approach makes this a done deal.

    Besides, I can deal with almost any kind of coworkers for an extra $10k per year.

  6. Job A, because I’ve read Stumbling on Happiness and other sources that say that I’m much more likely to be happy if I’m doing well in comparison to peers. I’ve read about stockbrokers making $500,000 per year feeling under-compensated because their peers are making $1,000,000 per year, rather than being happy that they make more than 99% of the population.

    Also, having had some income swings in the past, I know that I quickly adapt to whatever level of money I’m making. A few thousand dollar raise feels great at first, but a couple of months in I feel like I have the same standard of living as before.

    1. B.

      But I wouldn’t be surprised by what the above Kevin says.

      I wonder if this leads down towards the fact that the decisions that lead to more happiness are counter intuitive because of some obscure effect.

  7. B, for the same reasons the others have outlined. Admittedly. I would really be pissed off that my colleagues were earning more than me, but I would still rather have the extra money than the extra kudos.

  8. I guess this is probing attitude to status as some sort of abstraction when everything else is equal. So on that basis, Job B is a no brainer for me. I’ve had apparent status come and go to various degrees in various work scenarios in my life and, while not totally immune to the shallow pangs of vanity to which we are all prone, am pleased to find myself generally insensitive in that regard.

    That said, I had my company car choice ‘rationalised’ down at one point – didn’t like that at all. So maybe ask another question re overt symbols rather than money?

  9. b

    can you follow up with the stats on this, it’s seems so incredible to me that people would pick a.
    So much so that I thought the choices would be between lower pay and other workers only get slightly less and higher pay but other workers get much less. Which is definitely a bigger conundrum for me.

  10. In a job interview, the hiring manager would never discuss my co-workers’ salaries ………… so the question of what they earn would not arise. The focus is on hiring me and what the company is willing to offer me for my skills and what I am willing to accept. Since both jobs are identical in all ways except for the salary, I would pick the job with the higher salary – job B.

  11. I don’t think it’s that simple. In my industry, this actually happens all the time. A newcomer to the industry will often take a lower pay in order to get his foot in the door … especially because the starting pay for this industry is significantly higher than, say, fast food service, where the unskilled newcomer might otherwise be working.

    The problem is that, when someone is willing to take a lower pay than the rest of the available work pool, this sends a message to the paymasters that they can find people to work for less money if they really want to. Eventually, people at the top start getting paycuts or not getting hired, even if they’re requesting an industry-standard pay rate, while unskilled and/or unexperienced newcomers get snapped up for less, driving the entire industry average payscale down.

    It’s tempting to take the extra $10,000 but this is not thinking very far ahead and looking at the consequences of how this will affect the industry as a whole and, eventually, it will affect you too. This isn’t just theory, I’ve seen it in practice over and over again and it requires the diligence of the workers and employees to keep up with industry standards to make sure we continue to get paid a fair wage.

  12. Job B. Additionally, I’d like a Constitutional amendment prohibiting anyone who picks Job A from voting.

  13. Job B.
    I have always preferred to be the worst of a good bunch rather than the best of a bad bunch. Job B leaves me so much more room to improve and grow where as Job A sounds like i’ll be working with retards which would make me want to kill myself.

  14. @Joreth: Let’s diagram the logic of your argument.

    1. Accepting lower pay will lead to lower wages for all.
    2. I don’t want lower wages for all.
    Conclusion: I’m going to accept the job with lower pay.

  15. B. And I’ll be happy knowing I laughed psychology in the face. In fact, I’ve been there.
    Also, thought experiments aside, in option A there’s nothing to hope for. Option B says “stick around and you’ll be earning even more”

  16. I’d pick B, for practical purposes, but recognize I’d be happier with A from a strictly Job point of view.

    If we look at the ‘job’ itself, making less than everyone, while doing the same amount of work (or perhaps more) implies not being appreciated.

    We only take 50k when we are thinking outside the job.. but I bet it would piss people off all the time while they were in the Job, and eventually they would leave..

  17. I’d pick Job B. Partly more money and partly if you’re paid less than colleagues then it usually means you’re lower in the hierarchy and therefore less job stress. (Less, not none!).

  18. Of course B is logical; it’s just more money. But I have been in the position of others making more than me, and the resentment that builds up is unbearable. I would rather take the $50,000 and feel valued, rather than $60,000 and feel undervalued.

  19. Easy. B! I make more money and I have the prospect of making 80K should any of the other co-workers leave. I don’t care if other people are making more as long as I make that choice and it is not made by my superiors after I joined.

  20. B. earn more and get less jealousy, safe and easy work.

    It’s a no-doubt answer. If earning more and getting more jealousy, I might think it over.

  21. How often are we really in a position to know where we stand in terms of salary relative to our co-workers? I’ve worked for my current employer for 2 years and I have no idea what anyone else, even within my department, makes. The only time I’ve ever been aware of what my co-workers made is when I was partially responsible for payroll.

    All else being equal, I would take the higher-paying job. I don’t put any value in the “status” of being the most highly-paid employee at a company. I don’t think being the lowest-paid is necessarily a bad thing either, as it leaves lots of room to grow.

    1. Yes, this. I’ve never worked anywhere where I’ve known what other people were making and I wouldn’t want to.

  22. Without a doubt B. Money isn’t that important to me, and if everyone else is making more then me, they would be in a better mood. I like happy people more then Rich people.

  23. Job A. I’ve been in the situation where I earned less than all the other men in the room and I was stressed out constantly and felt under appreciated. Unless of course it was a temporary condition having to do with being new, I’d go for the job where they appreciated me.

  24. It would depend on how confident I felt about my ability to do the job. If it was something I was comparatively inexperienced in, I’d say B. If I knew I would do well and have a lot to contribute from the start, I’d say A.

  25. Well known and well published that quite a number of people prefer A over B, valueing status and or rank in social group in as much as propensity to shop. Personally I wouldn’t consider such low pay jobs.

  26. B. I’m almost certainly not going to want to hang out with work people anyways, certainly not if they’re the sort of people who’d lord their money over me. Plenty people I know make more than me, plenty less. Close friends on both ends of the spectrum. That money would help a lot.

  27. B. I already earn less than everyone else in my office and I’m fine with it because I know that for my industry it’s a good pay level.

  28. I would have to say ‘B’, because obviously as the new guy I would be paid less, and I would assume that future raises would put me more on a level with the other staff.

  29. Job B.

    My social network is almost exclusively outside of my job, so I couldn’t care less what my coworkers make. If all my friends were coworkers, I could see things being different. No so much in a dominance sense, but I’d rather make $50,000 and do $30,000 activities than make $60,000 and have to do $80,000 activities in order to see friends.

  30. B. If someone thinks that he will feel undervalued, then he should take B also, and take a good “shrink” for 5000 monthly to help him to feel great. And he will have extra 5000.

  31. Job B..

    Status isn’t defined by how much you get paid in my book. If you want status and respect, you will have to work to get it. Besides, if I was the only one making more than the rest, people would probably think I was an arrogant chum.

    So B, and I’m confident I would still yearn more respect and status than my co-workers.

  32. Having been in the situation where I’ve been earning much less than my colleague for doing exactly the same job, I would say that I’d go for job B, get my $10,000 more (than job A), then fight the establishment for parity with my colleagues.

    In my case, it took about 4 years to resolve, in which time I’d effectively lost out on about ยฃ20,000.

  33. Job B all the way. Maximising my income takes priority over being paid more than the others. The only gripe would be if the other workers undertook the same tasks and had the same level of responsibilities. In time if the wage disparity still existed then maybe I’d think “why do they earn more than me”.

    Good experiment though.

  34. Job B.

    I have Asperger’s “syndrome”*, and do not suffer from jealousy.
    I know, intellectually, what that emotion entails, but cannot envisage a situation whereby it might arise in my brain.

    * A somewhat disparaging term, but a hell of a lot less offensive than those who claim that I “suffer” from Asperger’s!
    I find it a positive advantage in many circumstances, this one amongst them.

    1. Interesting. I also have Asperger’s, and I do in fact get jealous. Probably not in this situation, as I’d totally see why a newcomer would get paid a bit less (and it’s still more than the other job), but in situations where it feels like I unfairly got the short end of the stick (someone winning a better prize at a game, someone getting a higher grade at university when I know I worked harder), I definitely do get jealous. Most people with Asperger’s I know, do so too. So maybe it’s just not in your personality to get jealous, rather that it being an Asperger’s thing? Seems like a good trait — they say jealousy signifies insecurity, so that would make you a very secure person.

  35. job b for me. $60,000 in that job not only is $10,000 more than job a, but it increases my potential earnings as and when i look for another job.

  36. Job B.

    It would not bother me that I earned less than my colleagues, especially if I knew I was earning $10,000 more than I could have been earning had I accepted the other job!

    Also the second job suggests there is the potential to earn more at that company whereas at the first company you are already the highest paid member of the team.

  37. So job B initially means I have less responsibility, get paid more and can look forward to promotion and a pay-rise without leaving the company?

    Whereas job A means I’m at the top already, with nowhere else to go, and knowing someone with my skills could have got a job paying $10k more??

    Don’t these kinds of questions usually have points on both sides? There is *nothing* appealing about Job A.

  38. As I would never, ever vote Tory as I don’t like their ethos, I would go for Job B.

    The idea that I would care that others were earning more than me is ridiculous. If Job B saw me earning $10k less and everyone else earning $50k more, I’d still go for job B. $40k is plenty.

  39. I put on concerts for a living, by the way, and I was once called to a lady who was complaining vehemently to the steward.

    I went to speak to her and she explained that she was very unhappy because she thought that there would be more people behind her.

    “I can move you forward,” I said, “but you’re actually in some of the best seats in the house.” (she was the row in front of the sponsor’s seats)

    “No,” she replied, “these are great seats, I just thought there would be more people behind me.”

    It would appear that some people just want to feel superior to others.

  40. B, I don’t want to be higher paid than everyone else as they might get annoyed and resent it.

  41. No debate going on in my mind here. I would go with ‘B’ Why?
    1) higher salary
    2) Possibility of career advancement. Higher target to aim for.
    3) Not so insecure that I would need to feel ‘superior’ to everyone else.

  42. I prefer Job B,
    if Job A satisfied the ego and if Job B does not, then on comparison with the whole society its ultimately how much you are bringing $$$$ .. so answer is Job B. AND No one would like to be a president of a small island but a senator of US is ultimately having more power.

  43. I’d prefer job B, because not only would I be paid more than job A but I could always use the wage discrepancy as a reason for a raise next time I negotiated with my boss ๐Ÿ˜‰

  44. B. Why pass up an extra $10,000? And the Salary of my co-workers indicates that there is opportunity to earn more.

    In Job A it appears that your position would be the highest paid, which doesn’t really demonstrate any room for improvement.

  45. I was in Job A about 3 months ago and am now in Job B. Longer term stability for the family was the reason for the move, at the expensive of greater potential future earnings. Five years ago when I wasn’t married the opposite case happened. So depends on my situation at the time.

    On the bright side, yay, 2 job offers!

  46. OK, everyone above this comment has answered the question…โ€˜Would you be more tempted by Job A or Job B? โ€˜ โ€“ everyone below has answered the question… โ€˜Which job do you think will make you feel happier, Job A or Job B?โ€™

  47. I’m not sure if more money would make me happier.

    From experience I think that it doesn’t matter what the money is, because a job that makes you unhappy will always make you unhappy.

  48. Interesting question.
    I’d maybe go for the Job B, because it means my salary isn’t above that of my colleagues. However it may also mean that I want to be in a higher social group since all salaries are higher…
    (I guess in a job interview you don’t know that so it doesn’t make a difference…)

  49. If in both cases, my colleagues and I were doing the same work – then neither job would make me feel happier.

  50. I think if the question was rephrased in a way that made it clear that in both jobs, I would be the only woman and all other employees would be male, then I’d most definitely take job A because I don’t want to be paid less than a bunch of men on the basis of what seems to be a sexist prejudice.
    However, assuming that there was strictly no such discrimination, I’d take job B, of course.

  51. Initial reaction Job B as per if I am the new guy I shouldn’t be making as much as the people who have been there for longer until I can prove my worth.
    Job A would be tough to take if you are making more then your coworkers and doing the same job as them then that pretty much tells you that the company is probably not giving raises or cost of living increases. Also I think it shows that the company does not value their older employees enough to make sure they stay around. Which means in their eyes a new person to the job is the same as a person who has experience in it (not a good job to jump into because in their eyes everyone is expendable).

    Just my 2 cents.

  52. B. We live in an unjust world, get over it. Since the jobs are otherwise identical I might as well take B, otherwise someone else wlll and I will end up with A and down $10k for no good reason.

    If you had made the choice
    C: $60k co-workers $40K
    D: $50k co-workers $80k
    then I would choose C

    If the choice were between all 4 then it becomes between B and C (both $60K). I still would choose B as there is a chance my salary could go up, whereas with C it is more likely to go down or not change as my co-workers reach parity with me.

    Whether based on hedonism or self-interest the choice seems the same.

  53. I’m wondering if this is one of those glass is half empty questions determined to extract my personality.

    I’m always been puzzled by the concept of “career prospects”. It implies that we want to continually change jobs in hope of something better. I’ve a mate who left college at the same time as me and he’s always gone for bigger and better jobs and moved around a lot. I’ve stayed in the same job for 15 years and I discovered that I actually earn more than him and I definately cite my self as happier.

    So me, option A
    So him, option B

  54. Job B has the “looks good on paper” bonus of more money, but I’m a sucker for comparing myself to others and would probably be happier with job A.

  55. Which would make me happeir? Well, this may sound bad, but i would prefer job B, as with the other i would be plopped down in a job where i earned more than all of my colleagues. this would lead to stress for me as i made the effort to prove to them that I deserved it. Stress = not happy. I’m assuming for the purposes of the question that everyone knows what everyone else makes, otherwise it really doesn’t make a difference.
    Also the extra 10,000 doesn’t hurt!

  56. B sounds better because you are at the bottom of the pay scale and can move up. With A you are at the top and risk becoming too expensive. Also, I like do a good job, but I’m not obsessively competitive. I’m not sure, but wanting everyone to look up to you in every way is impossible.

  57. Job B. I’m going for the extra money, not the extra prestige of making more than my other colleagues.

  58. There is nothing worse than feeling undervalued and unappreciated. If job A with the lower salary was at a company where I was valued and would get a high level of job satisfaction then I would have no hesitation in taking the lower salary for the sake of my mental health. No point in having a higher paid job and being stressed continually even if it does mean you can go on a more exotic holiday to try and relax.

    However, if the job B salary was at the bottom of a scale with the expectation of progression then that could be a different matter ๐Ÿ™‚

  59. Job B with the intention of eventually working my way up the ladder and eventually surpassing them in position and pay. Doesn’t get more competitive than that!

  60. Is that a trick question? I would like to out earn everyone if I could. Is that an unnatural desire? Did I not read something in the question?
    JOB A wold make me so much happier that I am better paid. I probably earned it and would work much harder knowing that because of the greater pay, more is probably expected of me.

    I am confused as to why anyone would be happier earning less than anyone else! Oh, well. ๐Ÿ™‚

  61. Job A. Maybe it feels bad at first that I’m getting $10.000 less in Job A than Job B but you can’t lose what you never had. So, as soon as I work in the Job A, I would forget the disparity.
    In the long run, Job A is better because if I took Job B these questions will surely nagging me everyday: Why he/she is getting $20.000 more than me? Do I deserve it? I work just as good as him, why can’t I get the same salary? Big boss must be hate me. Then I will lose my passion for working and eventually I will be the true loser, just as the negative disparity in the salary had described me.

  62. It’s a tricky one! I haven’t read any of the answers as I did not want to be influenced by what other people said.

    Initially when I first read the question I was leaning towards Job B because the higher salary would mean I can give my daughter a slightly better life than I could with Job A.

    However when I started thinking about it in more depth, I changed my mind and I would go with Job A, here are my reasons:

    I would have to consider what working at Job B would be like. I’m thinking about how my employer and colleagues would view me and my abilities if I am valued to be worth $20,000 less than my colleagues. Does anyone ever listen to or value the opinions of the lowest paid person? Would I come to resent the fact that others were earning more than me? I would be perceived by all to be not as competant as my colleagues. I believe it would significantly lower my self esteem and confidence in my own abilities and could make for a pretty dismal and unhappy working existence regardless of the above industry standard salary.

    In my opinion working conditions at Job A would be much better. If the employer pays me $20,000 more than my colleagues then my employer and colleagues would perceive me to be worth that much more and would have a much higher respect for me and my abilities and my opinions would be likely to be valued much more highly too.

    If you removed the salary differences in Job A & Job B i.e. they are both identical in terms of working hours, duties, locationm, career prospects AND the salary is the same – $50,000. With the only differences being with Job A your colleagues all are paid $30,000 and with Job B your colleagues are all paid $70,000 then it’s a no brainer, I think everyone would agree they would prefer Job A!

  63. Job B.

    If the choices were
    A: me $50k, everyone else $40k
    B: me $50k, everyone else $60k

    I’d still choose B! If I were earning more I’d feel there’d be more pressure on me to prove that I was somehow worthy of the extra money when doing the exact same job.

  64. job B.
    Eventually I’ll make more than the others anyway. I’m the get the job done, goto guy. Its just a matter of time before I make 30% more than the rest of them.

  65. I had this page open and started my response this morning but didn’t have time to finish it until now. I’ve only just read all the other comments and seen Richard’s update to changing the question. My answer to either question is still the same Job A for the same reasons that I already put.

    I was really interested to see how many people have opted for Job B!

  66. Job B, probably.. Job A, A person makes less, despite doing the same work as Job B.
    Also, in Job B, A person seems to have less status, and the employees seem to have more work and responsibilities making Job B easier.

    But that could be that Job B’s company has more revenue coming in
    making Job B more difficult, with less status.

    If its something I really know and I really like- I’d probably go for the Status..Job A.

  67. Rethinking: job B is a win-win situation (for myself and for the fellow employees), so would probably choose that.

  68. No brainer, I’m currently in Job B. I don’t gauge my success on my colleges but on the understanding of what I need for what I want (a good retirement for example). Job A would also provide a sense of hopelessness as asking for a pay rise would only further increase the disparity.

    I don’t need the guilt.

    W R

  69. I’m a little confused as to why Job A is being assumed to have no room for a pay increase? Both Job A & Job B have the same career prospects and so surely the same scope for salary improvements?

  70. I would take job B because of the 60K salary. I know enough about psychology and human nature to know that the higher salary of my co-workers might have a negative impact on my overall job satisfaction. I do not see this as real happiness however, but human illusion to be overcome, not given in to. If the Job itself in job A or the personality of the co-workers was more agreeable I would take it inspite of the lower salary, because those are what I consider real factors.

  71. If money is the only thing that matters, then B. But despite the attempt to make the jobs identical, if I’m getting paid that much more than my co-workers in Job A, I have to have more responsibility and therefore it is a more interesting and challenging job.

    Either that, or I’m supervising a bunch of low-level people and will be bored out of my skull. Maybe B after all?

    Of course, in real life there is always a job C.

  72. I would ask Berber Anna if she is conflating jealousy with envy?
    I certainly feel envy, but never jealousy.

    1. Hm. This may be a language issue — the two words translate to the same word, ‘jaloezie’, in my language (Dutch). I can think of two synonyms (afgunst, nijd), but they have pretty much the same meaning. So either the concept I have in mind is broader, or you have a concept we don’t. Being a translator myself, this definitely interests me — knowing how concepts overlap is crucial in getting a translation right. So what do you consider jealousy, and what do you consider envy? To me, they both signify wanting to have something that someone else has, and feeling a slight sense of anger towards that person for having what you do not have.

  73. as far as I know –

    “envy” – you want something someone else possesses.
    “jealousy” – you want it AND you resent the person who has it.


  74. hm I decided to look it them up on dictionary.com and thought you might be interested to read this:

    1. enviousness. Envy and jealousy are very close in meaning. Envy denotes a longing to possess something awarded to or achieved by another: to feel envy when a friend inherits a fortune. Jealousy, on the other hand, denotes a feeling of resentment that another has gained something that one more rightfully deserves: to feel jealousy when a coworker receives a promotion. Jealousy also refers to anguish caused by fear of unfaithfulness. 4. resent. Envy, begrudge, covet refer to one’s attitude toward the possessions or attainments of others. To envy is to feel resentful and unhappy because someone else possesses, or has achieved, what one wishes oneself to possess, or to have achieved: to envy the wealthy, a woman’s beauty, an honest man’s reputation. To begrudge is to be unwilling that another should have the possessions, honors, or credit that person deserves: to begrudge a man a reward for heroism. To covet is to long jealously to possess what someone else possesses: I covet your silverware. “

  75. I wouldn’t expect salaries to be a matter of public knowledge, so of course I would choose B. If they were, I would still choose B. I’m happier having lower status and fewer expectations. Then I could surprise everyone with my brilliance and get promoted. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  76. no intention to insult anyone.
    tempted for A, happier with B if co-workers hadn’t go for same test.

  77. Job B earns more and has a higher potential for future earnings based on the salaries of other workers.

  78. Job A, because if I’m earning the most money, I will feel better about myself. I have a lot of self esteem issues, so if I was top dog, my life would be so much easier because I would finally have a legitimate reason to accept myself. I would constantly feel inadequate and to the point of suicide if I took job B; I don’t think I can stand having that over my head, where people who earn higher keep telling me what to do. I’d rather be in charge, ultimately not working for anybody and being my own boss. The job I have now doesn’t even pay me $50,000 a year, so I would be happy with Job A anyway.

  79. Disregard my first post, I’m an idiot, for even typing that. I meant to say something else and tried clicking the back button on my browser, and the computer I’m on tends to have a technical lag, lol.

  80. If the jobs had same duties, hours, respect. Then I’d easily choose Job B. If they make more money than you who cares it’s if you have style that matters, haha. 10k more for me to flaunt my great sense of style.

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