Do people adjust career choices according to socioeconomic conditions? An evolutionary analysis of future discounting

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Abstract

The ability to process environmental cues and make advantageous choices has been fundamental during human evolution. Discounting future rewards is a capacity of our evolved mind and could be useful for understanding career decisions. This paper investigated the relationship between real-life plans, career choices, and income indicators based on an evolutionary approach of future discounting. Study 1 analyzed the plans of 200 senior high school students, and Study 2 analyzed a database of 46,649 applicants to a Brazilian public university. The results demonstrated that lower income subjects made career decisions with quicker returns and smaller investments. They included a job in immediate plans more frequently than higher income students who planned to go to a university. Analyzing the applicants' choices, higher income subjects sought courses with greater entrance difficulty. We suggest that individuals adjust career plans and choices according to their socioeconomic conditions and assume different discounting rates by considering risks of failure and future gains.

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