Monday, February 16, 2009

Personality and Life Expectancy (Conscientiousness and Non-Cognitive Skills)

Following on from growing evidence that higher levels of conscientiousness are associated with greater health protection, Kern and Friedman (2008) show that conscientious individuals tend to live longer. Associations with longevity were strongest for the achievement (persistent, industrious) and order (organised, disciplined) facets of conscientiousness.

This suggests that there may be links between longevity and what economists refer to as non-cognitive skills. Even more interesting is the approach taken to de-compose (overall) conscientiousness into a range of non-cognitive skills, including persistence, industriousness, organisation and discipline.

The importance of concientiousness is also documented by Terracciano et al (2008). Furthermore, this study shows that the association of personality traits with longevity is largely independent from the influence of smoking and obesity; longevity was associated with being conscientious, emotionally stable, and active (a facet of extraversion).

Low levels of neuroticism and high levels of extraversion are also associated with a lower later-life risk of developing dementia, according to recent research in Neurology (reported in the Leitrim Observer).


Martin Ryan said...

Mark Stibich provides a neat summary of the Kern and Friedman paper here:

Conscientious people, the authors suggest, are more likely to take care of themselves, get a good education, have a good job, be in a good marriage and more. All these factors have individually been shown to matter for life expectancy (but are hard to measure: questions like “how good is your marriage?” are difficult to answer and compare).

In relation to the topic of non-cognitive skills, the following traits seemed to increase life expectancy (but not enough to say they are definitely linked to longer life expectancy): thoroughness, reliability, deliberation, competence and dutifulness.

Martin Ryan said...


Michael Daly said...

Very interesting and great references to have, thanks Martin! Friedman had another paper the year before in health psychology(Martin, Friedman, & Schwartz 2007)showing that childhood conscientiousness based on parent and teacher reports predicts life-span mortality. The intriquing thing was that adult health behaviour or education could not explain this link. They assessed drinking and smoking so it could be argued other health habits like exercise and diet could explain the predictive value of childhood conscientiousness. It is also possible that conscientious people are less reactive to stressors and there are direct health effects in this way also..

Michael Daly said...

the Stibich neat summary link!

Martin Ryan said...

Michael, thanks for the reference to the other Friedman paper. Its an interesting puzzle that it poses. I'm currently looking for Big Five literature that discusses how facets of conscientiousness relate to non-cognitive skills, or even just more on the facets of conscientiousness (and emotional stability). I'll let you know what I find.