Study: Early career choices influence personality

In a study that tracked young adults over a period of six years, University of Illinois (UI) researchers found that early life career choices are associated with shifts in personality, or influence on the young adults' personality years later.

The researchers focused on two groups of 16-year-olds in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. The first group chose to enter apprenticeships or other vocational training programs while the second continued in school and entered the labor market after attending higher education.

At the beginning of the study, and again six years later, researchers asked participants to rate themselves on multiple measures that included personality traits and vocational interests. They used a technique called propensity score matching to align the traits of the two groups of study subjects.

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The study revealed that, after six years, self-reported conscientiousness increased more among those who pursued vocational training and employment than among their peers in academia. Those on the vocational track also expressed less interest in engaging in scientific, business or entrepreneurial activities.

"This means that those who didn't continue their education were losing interest in jobs that normally are fostered by going to college," said UI psychology professor Brent Roberts, who led the study.

The research adds to mounting evidence that personality is not immutable, but changes throughout life. The changes are often subtle, but meaningful. The evidence suggests many of those changes are the result of one's life choices.

"This study provides the strongest evidence we have yet that the path you choose may change your personality," Roberts said.

The study was published Monday in the journal Psychological Science.

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