How You Behave in School Predicts Life Success Above and Beyond Family Background, Broad Traits, and Cognitive Ability

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Abstract

In this study, we investigated the role of student characteristics and behaviors in a longitudinal study over a 50-year timespan (using a large U.S. representative sample of high school students). We addressed the question of whether behaviors in school have any long-lasting effects for one‘s later life. Specifically, we investigated the role of being a responsible student, interest in school, writing skills, and reading skills in predicting educational attainment, occupational prestige, and income 11 years (N = 81,912) and 50 years (N = 1,952) after high school. We controlled for parental socioeconomic status, IQ, and broad personality traits in all analyses. We found that student characteristics and behaviors in adolescence predicted later educational and occupational success above and beyond parental socioeconomic status, IQ, and broad personality traits. Having higher interest in school was related to higher educational attainment at years 11 and 50, higher occupational prestige at year 11, and higher income at year 50. Higher levels of being a responsible student were related to higher educational attainment and higher occupational prestige at years 11 and 50. This was the first longitudinal study to test the role of student characteristics and behaviors over and above broad personality traits. It highlights the potential importance of what students do in school and how they react to their experiences during that time. It also highlights the possibility that things that happen in specific periods of one’s life may play out in ways far more significant than we expect.

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