How much is a child’s future success determined by innate intelligence? Economist James Heckman says it’s not what people think, IQ is a minor factor in success. But then what is it that separates the low earner from high ones?? Science doesn’t have a definitive answer, although luck certainly plays a role. But another key factor is personality, accordingly to Heckman. He found financial success was correlated with conscientiousness, a trait marked by diligence, perseverance and self-discipline. To reach that conclusion, he and his colleagues examined four different data sets which included, IQ scores, standardized test results, grades and personality assessments for thousands of people in UK, US and Netherlands.
The study found that grades and achievements test results were markedly better predictors of adult success scores. That might seem surprising – after all, don’t they measure the same thing? Not quite. Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Heckman calls “non-cognitive skills” , such as perseverance, good study habits and ability to collaborate. Heckman, who shared Nobel Prize in 2000 and is a founder of the University of Chicago’s Center For Economics of Human Development, believes success hinges not just on innate ability but on skills that can be taught. His own research suggests childhood interventions can be helpful, and that consciousness is more malleable than IQ. Openness is a broad trait that includes curiosity is also connected to test scores and grades.
IQ still matters, of course. Someone with an IQ of 70 isn’t going to be able to do things that are easy for a person with an IQ of 190. But Heckman says many people fail to break into the job market because they lack skills that aren’t measured on intelligence tests. They don’t understand how to behave with courtesy in job interviews. They may show up late or fails to dress properly. Or in the job, they make it obvious they’ll do no more than minimum of that. Even IQ tests which are designed to access innate problem-solving capabilities appears to measure more than just smarts. In 2011, a study at University of Pennsylvania found that IQ scores also reflected test-takers motivation and effort. Diligent, motivated kids will work harder to answer tough questions than equally intelligent but lazier ones.
Teaching personality or character traits in school wouldn’t be easy. For one thing it is not always clear whether more of a trait is always better. The higher the better for IQ, and perhaps for conscientiousness as well. But researchers have suggested the middles ground is best for other traits – you don’t want to be so introvert that you can’t speak up, or so extrovert that you can’t shut up and listen.