Secular rise in economically valuable personality traits

Markus Jokela, Tuomas Pekkarinen, Matti Sarvimäki*, Marko Terviö, Roope Uusitalo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although trends in many physical characteristics and cognitive capabilities of modern humans are well-documented, less is known about how personality traits have evolved over time. We analyze data from a standardized personality test administered to 79% of Finnish men born between 1962 and 1976 (n = 419, 523) and find steady increases in personality traits that predict higher income in later life. The magnitudes of these trends are similar to the simultaneous increase in cognitive abilities, at 0.2-0.6 SD during the 15-y window. When anchored to earnings, the change in personality traits amounts to a 12% increase. Both personality and cognitive ability have consistent associations with family background, but the trends are similar across groups defined by parental income, parental education, number of siblings, and rural/urban status. Nevertheless, much of the trends in test scores can be attributed to changes in the family background composition, namely 33% for personality and 64% for cognitive ability. These composition effects are mostly due to improvements in parents' education. We conclude that there is a "Flynn effect" for personality that mirrors the original Flynn effect for cognitive ability in magnitude and practical significance but is less driven by compositional changes in family background.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6527-6532
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume114
Issue number25
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Cognitive ability
  • Cohort effects
  • Earnings
  • Flynn effect
  • Personality traits

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