Adults who are assertive, talkative and enthusiastic – what psychologists call highly extroverted – are less likely to come from low income backgrounds than those who do not share this personality trait. But extroverted adults are 25% more likely to earn over £40,000 a year, with the odds being higher for men than women (30% v. 20%).
This is according to a new Sutton Trust report that analyses data from the BBC Big Personality Test. A Winning Personality, by Dr Robert de Vries at the University of Kent and Dr Jason Rentfrow at the University of Cambridge, uses information on the personality characteristics of more than 150,000 UK residents to examine the link between family background and character traits, and between these traits and career success.
The report shows that people who are conscientious, displaying traits like self-discipline, efficiency and organisation, are 20% more likely to secure a high-paying job.
However, the researchers found that non-cognitive skills like personality traits and aspirations are strongly affected by social background. Analysis of the BBC Lab UK data found that adults who come from more advantaged backgrounds, defined as those whose parents had a professional job, had significantly higher levels of extraversion than those who did not. They were also more likely to display high levels of openness, including imagination and intellectual curiosity.
In addition, aspirations in almost all areas of life were significantly higher for respondents who grew up in comfortable homes. Out of aesthetic, social, hedonistic, religious and relationship aspirations, religious goals were the only ones not to differ significantly by social background. Men’s economic aspirations and women’s aesthetic aspirations – or their desire to create good artistic work – were found to be the most influenced by social background.
Today’s report by Dr Robert de Vries and Dr Jason Rentfrow shows that, by influencing career success, personality traits and aspirations play an important part in social mobility. With social skills becoming increasingly important in the labour market, efforts must be made to address the disadvantages that less advantaged young people face.
The report recommends that:
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:
“To get the best jobs you need the best grades. But is that enough? Recent Harvard research shows that almost all the job growth in the United States over the last 20 years has come from jobs which require social skills and this trend is likely to accelerate.
“Our research shows that there is a clear correlation between social and other skills and earnings. We must therefore build the career aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and foster the more intangible qualities that they need to succeed and which are not taught in the curriculum such as confidence, aspiration, resilience and creativity.”
Dr Robert de Vries, lecturer at the University of Kent, said today:
“We know that, in the UK, even more than in many other countries, a privileged upbringing is likely to lead to better grades at school, and a better chance at a successful career. But, along with the previous research we review, today’s analysis of the BBC Big Personality Test shows that those from better off backgrounds have yet another advantage when it comes to non-academic factors like extraversion and career aspirations.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
NOTE ON METHODOLOGY:
This report uses two separate approaches to examine the association between family background and several key non-cognitive characteristics, and between these characteristics and adult career attainment: