High school behavior is predictor of later success

By SABRINA CHEN | March 8, 2018

An individual’s high school grades may do more than just get him into college. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology stated that a student’s interest in high school academics is strongly tied to income 50 years later.

The study, lead by Marion Spengler at the University of Tübingen, analyzed data collected from 346,660 high school students in the United States in 1960. This data includes student behaviors and attitudes, personality traits, cognitive abilities, parental socioeconomic status, and demographic factors.

The study also included follow up data from 1,952 of those students 50 years later and follow up data from 81,912 students 11 years later. 

The follow-up surveys included questions measuring educational attainment, income and workplace prestige.

Examining follow-up conditions, both 11 and 50 years after the initial data collection, the researchers realized that an interest in school was correlated to more prestigious jobs and higher income. 

“Educational researchers, political scientists and economists are increasingly interested in the traits and skills that parents, teachers and schools should foster in children to enhance chances of success later in life,” Spengler said, according to ScienceDaily. “Our research found that specific behaviors in high school have long-lasting effects for one’s later life.”

Spengler said that these effects were present even after socioeconomic status, IQ and personality were controlled for. 

“Student characteristics and behaviors were rewarded in high school and led to higher educational attainment, which in turn was related to greater occupational prestige and income later in life,” Spengler said. “This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person’s life.”

These results counter past findings that bad behavior in school can predict later success in the workplace. In 2014, Nicholas Papageorge, an assistant professor of economics at Hopkins, analyzed data from a longitudinal study in Great Britain that showed behaviors such as aggression earlier on in life could predict higher earnings. 

The initial data was a series of surveys filled out by teachers judging their students’ behaviors in the classroom. 

The study then followed the students into adulthood and collected information on their educational attainment and employment. 

Papageorge found that when students exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression in early childhood, they have a propensity to thrive later on in the labor market. 

On the other hand, internalizing behaviors such as shyness, timidness or overall lack of expression tends to lead students to be much less successful. Therefore Papageorge believes that in some cases, disruptive behavior in early life and school years can actually go on to be important traits in the working world.

“Our results on externalizing suggest that schools do not always foster the sorts of skills that are valuable in the labor market,” Papageorge wrote in an article for the Brookings Institute. “This finding calls into question the role of schooling in identifying and cultivating skills that are productive.”

Nevertheless, other past studies reinforce Spengler’s findings. A 2015 study published in Frontiers in Psychology stated that intellectual talent and behavior in middle and high school years can lead to achievement in all professional domains and can predict success. 

In particular, four factors were seen to be the best predictors for later success: responsibility, respect for teachers, perseverance and a hardworking nature.

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