Impact Factor

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 28 September 2012 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00356

Who does well in life? Conscientious adults excel in both objective and subjective success

  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
  • 2Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

This article investigates how personality and cognitive ability relate to measures of objective success (income and wealth) and subjective success (life satisfaction, positive affect, and lack of negative affect) in a representative sample of 9,646 American adults. In cross-sectional analyses controlling for demographic covariates, cognitive ability, and other Big Five traits, conscientiousness demonstrated beneficial associations of small-to-medium magnitude with all success outcomes. In contrast, other traits demonstrated stronger, but less consistently beneficial, relations with outcomes in the same models. For instance, emotional stability demonstrated medium-to-large associations with life satisfaction and affect but a weak association with income and no association with wealth. Likewise, extraversion demonstrated medium-to-large associations with positive affect and life satisfaction but small-to-medium associations with wealth and (lack of) negative affect and no association with income. Cognitive ability showed small-to-medium associations with income and wealth but no association with any aspect of subjective success. More agreeable adults were worse off in terms of objective success and life satisfaction, demonstrating small-to-medium inverse associations with those outcomes, but they did not differ from less agreeable adults in positive or negative affect. Likewise, openness to experience demonstrated small-to-medium inverse associations with every success outcome except positive affect, in which more open adults were slightly higher. Notably, in each of the five models predicting objective and subjective success outcomes, individual differences other than conscientiousness explained more variance than did conscientiousness. Thus, the benefits of conscientiousness may be remarkable more for their ubiquity than for their magnitude.

Keywords: conscientiousness, personality, Big Five, income, wealth, subjective well-being

Citation: Duckworth AL, Weir D, Tsukayama E and Kwok D (2012) Who does well in life? Conscientious adults excel in both objective and subjective success. Front. Psychology 3:356. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00356

Received: 19 June 2012; Accepted: 03 September 2012;
Published online: 28 September 2012.

Edited by:

Colin G. DeYoung, University of Minnesota, USA

Reviewed by:

Alexander Weiss, The University of Edinburgh, UK
Markus Jokela, University of Helsinki, Finland

Copyright: © 2012 Duckworth, Weir, Tsukayama and Kwok. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Angela L. Duckworth, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Market Street, Suite 215, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. e-mail: duckworth@psych.upenn.edu