School-age children are continually taught to follow rules and listen to what their teachers and parents are telling them in order to succeed in life, but is that actually good advice?
Not necessarily, according to a recent study, which found that rebellious and stubborn children actually go on to do pretty well for themselves in the job market when they grow up. Once other non-cognitive factors linked to occupational success – such as the influence of childhood IQ and parental socioeconomic status – were accounted for, a child's tendency to break rules and defy their parents was actually the best predictor of earning a higher income.
To examine the links between student characteristics and behaviours and occupational success later in life, the researchers sourced data from the Luxembourgish MAGRIP study, which initially assessed almost 3,000 6th-graders in Luxembourg in 1968.
The study included measures of the children's intelligence, family background, and socioeconomic status, and a questionnaire on the students' everyday feelings, thoughts, and habits in relation to both school and home life. Teachers also reported feedback on students, rating their studiousness and willingness to learn.
More recently, a separate team of researchers followed up on this original sample, collecting information on the now-adult participants' lifetime educational and occupational achievements. From this data, they looked at a sample of 745 participants, comparing their childhood results (when aged about 12) to their career success some 40 years later.
The findings, reported in Developmental Psychology, suggest that a child's tendency towards rule-breaking and defiance – in addition to how responsible and studious the students were – is positively correlated with earning a higher individual income. The researchers themselves were surprised by this, but offer a few reasons why it might be the case.
"[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 write. "For instance, individuals who scored low on Agreeableness were also shown to earn more money."
This could be because rule-breakers value competition more than interpersonal relationships, and therefore aren't scared of advancing their own interests relative to others, the researchers suggest.
"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 favourable individual outcomes," they write, suggesting that this trait would come in handy when it's time to negotiate pay, role, or personal benefits.
Of course, 'rebelliousness' 40 years ago wouldn't necessarily equate to what rebelliousness constitutes now, but there are still some pretty valuable insights we can take away from these results.
So, for any parents out there, while it might be extremely frustrating at times trying to raise a willful and rebellious child, it should be some consolation that these hard-nosed characteristics will probably serve your offspring well later on in life. Of course, there's also another, somewhat less savoury possibility that could explain what's going on here.
"We also cannot rule out that individuals who are likely or willing to break rules get higher pay for unethical reasons," the researchers note. "For instance, research in the field of organisational psychology showed that employees invest in unethical or deviant workplace behaviour when they are not satisfied with their income and when they have a high level of love of money."