Cohort differences in Big Five personality factors over a period of 25 years

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Jun;100(6):1124-38. doi: 10.1037/a0022874.


The notion of personality traits implies a certain degree of stability in the life span of an individual. But what about generational effects? Are there generational changes in the distribution or structure of personality traits? This article examines cohort changes on the Big Five personality factors Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience, among first-year psychology students in The Netherlands, ages 18 to 25 years, between 1982 and 2007. Because measurement invariance of a personality test is essential for a sound interpretation of cohort differences in personality, we first assessed measurement invariance with respect to cohort for males and females separately on the Big Five personality factors, as measured by the Dutch instrument Five Personality Factors Test. Results identified 11 (females) and 2 (males) biased items with respect to cohort, out of a total of 70 items. Analyzing the unbiased items, results indicated small linear increases over time in Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness and small linear decreases over time in Neuroticism. No clear patterns were found on the Openness to Experience factor. Secondary analyses on students from 1971 to 2007 of females and males of different ages together revealed linear trends comparable to those in the main analyses among young adults between 1982 onward. The results imply that the broad sociocultural context may affect personality factors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Character*
  • Cohort Effect
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Personality Development*
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment
  • Social Values
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult