Many make the inaccurate assumption that IQ is directly tied to success and, by extension, wealth. But according to economist and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, people consistently overestimate the truth of this statement; while most people guess 25 or even 50%, in reality, only 1 or 2% of the differences between people's incomes can be attributed to IQ score – a very minor amount.
Though science still can't say for sure, in addition to a little luck, it seems that a person's personality is far more likely to influence their bottom line. More specifically, a paper co-authored by Heckman and John Eric Humphries for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Big 5 personality trait conscientiousness, or diligence, attention to detail, and self-discipline, was strongly tied to financial success.
Heckman and his colleagues analyzed four different data sets, which included the IQ scores, standardized test results, grades, and personality assessments for thousands of people in the UK, the U.S., and the Netherlands. The data sets spanning decades also took note of income, criminal records, body mass index, and self-reported life satisfaction as well. In the end, grades and achievement test results were better predictors of financial and professional success than raw IQ scores.
Though most people believe these are one and the same, that's not quite the case. "Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Heckman calls 'non-cognitive skills,' such as perseverance, good study habits and the ability to collaborate—in other words, conscientiousness," writes Bloomberg of the results. "To a lesser extent, the same is true of test scores. Personality counts." In other words, you have some element of control over how you perform in school and by extension, where you end up professionally and financially; a high IQ will only get you so far. Those who develop rigorous study habits and commit themselves to their work have a better chance of moving up the corporate ladder (and into higher income brackets).
Though IQ matters to an extent, Heckman goes on to explain, "Many people fail to break into the job market because they lack skills that aren’t measured on intelligence tests. They don’t understand how to behave with courtesy in job interviews. They may show up late or fail to dress properly. Or on the job, they make it obvious they’ll do no more than the minimum, if that."
The good news is there is hope for us all regardless of the skills we are born with. Heckman believes traits that truly determine success, such as conscientiousness, are more malleable and can be taught, as opposed to innate skill or IQ. More of his own research found that other personality traits such as openness – a broad trait that includes curiosity – also affects test scores and grades.
Take this Big 5 personality test to see how conscientious you are, and share your thoughts on Heckman's research below!