The Effect of Personality Traits on Subject Choice and Performance in High School: Evidence from an English Cohort
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This paper was written by Silvia Mendolia and Ian Walker. Mendolia will be presenting the paper at NIESR, and we would love for you to join us.
The paper investigates the relationship between personality traits in adolescence and performance in high school using a large and recent cohort study. In particular, the authors investigate the impact of locus of control, self-esteem and work ethics at age 15, on test scores at age 16, and on subject choices and subsequent performance at age 17-18. In particular, individuals with external locus of control or with low levels of self-esteem seem less likely to have good performance in test scores at age 16 and to pursue further studies at 17-18, especially in mathematics or sciences.
The authors use matching methods to control for a rich set of adolescent and family characteristics and they find that personality traits do affect study choices and performance in test scores – particularly in mathematics and science. The results are stronger for adolescents from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. They establish the robustness of their results using the methodology proposed by Altonji et al. (2005) that consists in making hypotheses as to the correlation between the unobservables that determine test scores and subjects’ choices and, the unobservables that influence personality.