Childhood self-control and unemployment throughout the life span: evidence from two British cohort studies

Psychol Sci. 2015 Jun;26(6):709-23. doi: 10.1177/0956797615569001. Epub 2015 Apr 13.


The capacity for self-control may underlie successful labor-force entry and job retention, particularly in times of economic uncertainty. Analyzing unemployment data from two nationally representative British cohorts (N = 16,780), we found that low self-control in childhood was associated with the emergence and persistence of unemployment across four decades. On average, a 1-SD increase in self-control was associated with a reduction in the probability of unemployment of 1.4 percentage points after adjustment for intelligence, social class, and gender. From labor-market entry to middle age, individuals with low self-control experienced 1.6 times as many months of unemployment as those with high self-control. Analysis of monthly unemployment data before and during the 1980s recession showed that individuals with low self-control experienced the greatest increases in unemployment during the recession. Our results underscore the critical role of self-control in shaping life-span trajectories of occupational success and in affecting how macroeconomic conditions affect unemployment levels in the population.

Keywords: economic recession; human capital; open data; open materials; personality; self-control; unemployment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior Rating Scale
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Development*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Economic Recession
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self-Control / psychology*
  • Social Class
  • Unemployment / psychology*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult