What Your Parents' Income Predicts About You, According To Scientific Research

Freud certainly got a few things right in his time, particularly his theory that the environments in which we’re raised have a tremendous impact on our lives as adults. How we were raised affects our personality and life choices, as well as career path and overall health. Of course, one of the most important factors of our home life is the socioeconomic status in which we grew up.

The income your parents made when you were a youngster doesn’t define everything about your family, but it could account for some of your primary characteristics. Of course, it’s not a foolproof formula for understanding human beings; things like parenting styles, culture, and religion work in conjunction with class to mold us.

Susan E. Mayer, Professor of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, conducted research on the connection between house income and our personalities, and while she came to several conclusions — some were easier to stomach than others — she urges us to remember that we don’t have enough high-quality research to make definite predictions on this correlation. We can take what we’ve learned from the studies but we shouldn’t rely on them to predict how the next generation will turn out. Finally, we would be unwise to define ourselves based on the money that was rolling in when we were kids. No matter what, we still have our own choices to make.

Here is what science has to say about your childhood socioeconomic status and what it predicts about who you turn out to be.

If You Grew Up Upper Or Upper-Middle Class...


Studies overwhelmingly show that you are more likely to have a high IQ and probably went to college and maybe even graduate school. You likely have good communication skills because your parents were constantly interacting with you and enrolling you in programs that would improve your ability to socialize. You’re apparently also more patient and altruistic than your peers, but you think quite highly of yourself — only because your mom consistently praised you, reminding you how awesome you were.

Generally speaking, parents who are raking in a lot of cash tend to be more inconsistent in their parenting styles; if you fall into this category, you may have even had parents who adopted a style “that is characterized by psychological control.” You don’t react to threats very much because your dad probably doled out verbal warnings, only to never follow through with them. However, that same parent was emotionally warm and constantly commending you for all your achievements. A kid in this kind of household gets used to that affection, which means they expect it from important people in their adult lives, such as partners or bosses.

You might play it safe when it comes to the important life decisions. After all, you grew up in stability and really value it for yourself.

If You Grew Up Middle Class...


This group of folks is a bit harder to pin down because the middle class is vaster than we think it is. In 2012, 49 percent of Americans say they fit in the middle, according to a Pew Research survey. They experience more geographic mobility and greater opportunities for choice and control than the working class. This gives parents the room to encourage self-expression, promoting a sense of independence from others. Research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science says parents in the middle class try to teach their children what it means to be “good,” but they also convey a sense of entitlement that has likely followed them to adulthood. (Slightly guilty as charged.)

Hazel Rose Markus conducted a study in 2005 that showed folks in this demographic were concerned with their ability to choose — choose their career, their place of residence, and their everyday tasks. They react negatively when a larger force has overthrown their decision.

If you grew up in this kind of home, you have probably inherited that belief; you like knowing all your options and being in control of what path lies ahead of you, so much so that you don’t tend to take all of life’s curveballs very well.

If You Grew Up Working Class...


Chances are you’re a hard worker, as your home life wasn’t as cushy or stable as those whose parents were doctors and lawyers. Parents worked long hours and your access to media was rarely monitored, so you learned to self-govern at an earlier age. When you were younger, under the age of 10, you were more of a risk-taker than most of your peers. According to scientific research, there’s a strong likelihood that your parents taught you that the world doesn’t revolve around you; this makes you more aware of people’s needs around you and more considerate of what’s happening in your environment. Unlike the middle class kids, you don’t tend to revel in the value of choice. In fact, you “describe choice more negatively” and simply accept what falls into your lap.

Professor of Psychology at CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Robert E. Doherty conducted studies that discovered how adult health is affected by childhood environments, specifically centered on children from poor households and their physical wellbeing. These kids grow up to have shorter telomeres than others. The length of a telomere is important because it’s a biomarker of aging; the shorter it is, the more likely the individual will develop cancer or cardiovascular disease. If you grew up in this category, Doherty says you are more susceptible to the common cold than the next person.

Not to keep piling on the bad news, but people in this category are twice as likely to develop major depression in their adult lives. Other factors are relevant, such as family history of mental illness, and the income you end up earning as an adult. But there’s no denying that, compared to the offspring of wealthier families, you are at a higher risk to see clinical depression.

A very significant layer to highlight is that families who experienced short bouts of poverty at a time — versus long-term financial struggles — don’t see as many of these outcomes come into fruition.

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