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Does It Pay to Be Optimistic?

According to a new working paper by Ron Kaniel, Cade Massey, and David T. Robinson (abstract here; PDF here), the answer is yes, at least if you’re an MBA student looking for a job:

Using a novel longitudinal data set that tracks the job search performance of MBA students, we show that dispositional optimists experience significantly better job search outcomes than pessimists with similar skills. During the job search process, they spend less effort searching and are offered jobs more quickly. They are choosier and are more likely to be promoted than others. Although we find optimists are more charismatic and are perceived by others to be more likely to succeed, these factors alone do not explain away the findings. Most of the effect of optimism on economic outcomes stems from the part that is not readily observed by one’s peers.

The key data source, the authors write, “is an eight-wave online survey of daytime MBA students at a midatlantic university that we conducted between August 2005 and May 2007.”
There is reason to be cautious about such findings, driven as they are by self-reporting and experimental game-play. But there is also reason to admit, as the authors acknowledge, that “labor economists have demonstrated that non-cognitive skills, many shaped in early childhood, affect a wide range of adult-life outcomes.”