Responsible behavior in high school, life success 50 years later

High school behavior reflects even after 50 years.

University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts and his colleagues found that, above and beyond other factors known to influence life success, responsible behavior and interest in high school correspond to economic and career success 50 years later. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Brent Roberts - Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, in the Social-Personality-Organizational Division.

A study conducted by specialists from the University of Illinois psychology, University of Houston and University of Tuebingen links being interested and behaving responsibly in high school leads to better academic and career success as many as 50 years later.

The study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers report that it holds true even after accounting for parental income, IQ and other factors known to impact achievement.

Professor Brent Roberts, University of Illinois psychology said, “Yes, intelligence is important to life success and so is family socioeconomic status; we’ve known this for a while.”

“Studies have shown that personality traits such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness also correspond to higher academic and career achievement. But these are traits you’re more or less born with. We wanted to know if factors under the control of the individual at a young age might also play a role.”

During the investigation, they analyzed decades of data gathered by the American Institutes for Research commenced in 1960 to at present. The original data set to incorporate more than 370,000 students. High school participants were originally tested on academic, cognitive and behavioral characteristics in 1960 and likewise reacted to follow-up surveys in later years.

The novel analysis looked at the initial student tests and their responses 11 years and 50 years later.

Marion Spengler of the University of Tuebingen said of the 1,952 participants randomly selected from those who responded to surveys 50 years later, “those who showed more interest in high school and had higher writing skills reported earning higher incomes.”

Rodica Damian, of the University of Houston, coauthored a study of behavior in high school and life success.
Rodica Damian, of the University of Houston, coauthored a study of behavior in high school and life success.

“They also tended to have higher occupational prestige than their peers when they showed responsible behaviors as a student.”

She added this was in addition to the gains associated with IQ, family income and personality traits such as conscientiousness.

Further analyses unveiled that education was likely the factor mediating the relationship between high school behavior and later success in life.

The researchers noted, “It seems that these early individual differences are relevant across the lifespan through the lens of education.”

Rodica Damian of the University of Houston said, while the study kept track of participants over a period of 50 years, the methods used the only point to an association amid factors and outcomes and do not prove that good behavior in high school inevitably leads to career success later in life.

She stated, “This study does, however, highlight the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person’s life.”