As it turns out, your mom was right when she told you that finishing your homework before breaking into abandoned houses to get into shenanigans with your crew would pay off in the long run. According to a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, your behavior in high school predicts your success as an adult. Regardless of IQ score or your parents' socioeconomic status, showing an interest in school when you're a teenager is linked to having a higher income decades later. '80s movies may not be known for their real-world grittiness, but Revenge of the Nerds may not be so far off.
Back in 1960, the American Institutes for Researched gathered information about 346,660 high school students, measuring things like personality traits, attitudes toward school, socioeconomic status, and so on. The research institute followed up with the same students 11 years later, in 1971, and again in 2010. In each of the follow-ups, researchers asked the former students about their education, income, and job prestige.
This is the information that researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study analyzed. When they compared people's behavior as high school students to their situation as adults, researchers found a link that would make any school counselor jump for joy. The kids who were responsible, showed interest in school, and had fewer problems with writing and reading grew up to make more money and have more prestigious jobs.
This remained true even when researchers controlled for individual personalities and the financial situation at home. I hesitate to use the word "successful," because everyone defines it differently, but basically, as long as the students made an effort in school, they were more financially stable as adults.
When researchers looked into it more closely, they found that most of the link could be explained by education. Students who excelled in high school were more likely to move on to higher education like college or graduate school. Lead author Marion Spengler explained in a press release published in Science Daily that this "in turn was related to greater occupational prestige and income later in life."
It's no secret that people with bachelor's degrees make more money and have a lower unemployment rate than those with high school diplomas. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 2.4 percent in August 2017 for people with college degrees, while it was 5.1 percent for those who graduated high school. Of course, that doesn't mean people with degrees are working in their field; as Bloomberg points out, the college labor market is a bit more complicated than it used to be. In 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about 43 percent of recent college graduates were underemployed, meaning they had jobs that didn't typically require a degree.
That being said, higher education is still associated with higher income — and judging from the study above, the key to higher education is putting in effort in high school. It's not exactly mind-blowing information, but it does speak to the way our behavior when we're young lays the framework for the rest of our lives. "This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person's life," Spengler explained, according to Science Daily.
If you're reading this, chances are you've already graduated from high school. But hey! My fellow members of the nerd herd can consider this the validation they've always craved. In the long run, being responsible really does pay off. Just don't forget to enjoy yourself while you're at it — you need to have some wacky stories to tell at your high school reunion.