A growing body of empirical research demonstrates that people who possess certain character strengths do better in life in terms of work, earnings, education and so on, even when taking into account their academic abilities. Smarts matter, but so does character.
This paper assesses the quality of measures available in US survey data for two specific character traits, or non-cognitive skills, drive and prudence, which the authors term “performance character strengths” – non-cognitive skills that relate to outcomes important for economic mobility, such as educational attainment.
The authors evaluate and rank the measures of drive and prudence found in these surveys, categorizing them as broad or narrow, and indirect or direct. Next, we use one of these measures (the BPI-hyperactivity scale in the NLSY) to look at socioeconomic gaps in performance character strengths, and the relative importance of performance character strengths for educational attainment.
The authors find that family income and maternal education are positively associated with higher levels of performance character strengths, and that the influence of the measure on educational attainment is comparable to the influence of academic scores.