CHAMPAIGN, III — Even decades after graduating, high school overachievers may have something to show for their extra hours in the library. A new study ties career success with students who proved to be the most responsible in their pre-college years.

Researchers from two U.S. universities and one in Germany looked at a dataset that spanned nearly 60 years and included 370,000 students, in which participants’ academic, cognitive, and behavioral skills were thoroughly evaluated.

Graduates throwing their mortarboards
It pays to pay attention. A new study finds that being responsible and performing well in your high school years is linked to career success decades later.

Twice after their initial assessment — 11 and 50 years later — participants were asked to complete follow-up surveys, which were intended to provide a snapshot into their post-high school years’ accomplishments and achievements.

Through examining the answers of nearly 2,000 respondents, the researchers found that “being a responsible student, showing an interest in school and having fewer problems with reading and writing were all significantly associated with greater educational attainment and finding a more prestigious job,” along with having greater income.

“They also tended to have higher occupational prestige than their peers when they showed responsible behaviors as a student,” says lead author Marion Spengler, of the University of Tübingen, in a release.

These improvements in later life outcomes could be measured independently of one’s IQ, socioeconomic status, or advantageous personality traits, the researchers found.

The researchers believe that studiousness at a relatively young age encouraged continuing education, meaning that for straight-A students, learning didn’t end as soon as the bell stopped ringing.

“Student characteristics and behaviors were rewarded in high school and led to higher educational attainment, which in turn was related to greater occupational prestige and income later in life,” adds Spengler. “This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person’s life.”

Still, despite referencing a broad, comprehensive dataset, the researchers warn that correlation is not causation.

“In other words, the methods used only point to an association between factors and outcomes and do not prove that good behavior in high school inevitably leads to career success later in life,” explains co-author Rodica Damian of the University of Houston.

Spengler at al. published their findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

About Daniel Steingold

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