Sorry, Mom and Dad.
Across many cultures, one of the key lessons of childhood is to follow rules and obey elders — whether it be parents, grandparents, or teachers. However, recent research finds that this might not necessarily be the best advice when it comes to growing up and landing a high-paying job.
A new study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that children who are rebellious and stubborn are more likely to secure high incomes in the future than their obedient peers.
After the researchers accounted for non-cognitive factors, like parental socioeconomic status and childhood IQ, they found that a child’s tendency to break rules and defy authority figures was actually the best predictor of earning a higher income later in life.
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In order to investigate the links between childhood behaviors and career success later in life, the researchers analyzed data from the Luxembourgish MAGRIP Study, which assessed about 3,000 6th-graders in Luxembourg in 1968.
The MAGRIP study looked into the children’s family backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and intelligence levels, and there was a questionnaire on the students’ daily thoughts, habits, and feelings about their lives at school and home. Teachers also rated the students’ levels of studiousness and their willingness to learn.
A separate team of researchers followed up in this original data from the 60s by collecting new data on 745 of the participants’ educational and occupational achievements throughout the next 40 years of their lives. They then compared the new data to the results of their 12-years-old selves.
The findings suggest that being stubborn and rebellious is positively correlated with earning a higher income, as well as how responsible and studious the students were. Admittedly, the researchers were surprised that rule breaking and defiance could lead to higher-earning jobs, but they came up with a few explanations for the link.
"[W]e might assume that students who scored high on this scale might earn a higher income because they are more willing to be more demanding during critical junctures such as when negotiating salaries or raises," the authors wrote. "For instance, individuals who scored low on Agreeableness were also shown to earn more money."
They suggest that defiant individuals value competition over interpersonal relationships, and thus aren’t hesitant to seek out job promotions or salary raises.
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"Another explanation might be that individuals with higher levels of rule-breaking and defiance of parental authority also have higher levels of willingness to stand up for their own interests and aims, a characteristic that leads to more favorable individual outcomes," they explain.
A notable limitation of the study is that what was considered “rebellious” 40 years ago might not necessarily be the same as what’s considered rebellious today. Nonetheless, these findings may still give parents some peace of mind if their kids seem to be particularly stubborn or rebellious — perhaps it’s a sign that your little ones will do well for themselves later in life.
On the other hand, it might not be such a positive indicator…
"We also cannot rule out that individuals who are likely or willing to break rules get higher pay for unethical reasons," the study authors wrote. "For instance, research in the field of organizational psychology showed that employees invest in unethical or deviant workplace behavior when they are not satisfied with their income and when they have a high level of love of money."