Parents often worry about their kid’s behavior and performance in school—especially when they reach the teens. This is typically the time when kids fall out of their routines, and as a result, their academic success hangs in the balance. In hopes of keeping them on the right track, parents oftentimes address these concerns with their kids… but they are often met with groans and rebuff. While it might annoy these teens to hear about their parents’ worries over and over again, it might be smart to hear them out, as new research sheds light on the long-term effects of high school performance.

A new study “How You Behave in School Predicts Life Success Above and Beyond Family Background, Broad Traits, and Cognitive Ability” identifies a few predictors of income and occupational success: being a responsible high school student, maintaining an interest in school, and having good reading and writing skills. The researchers said these findings held true regardless of IQ, parental socioeconomic status, and other personality factors.

Lead author Marion Spengler, PhD, of the University of Tubingen explains the team’s findings and the relevance of these findings: “Educational researchers, political scientists and economists are increasingly interested in the traits and skills that parents, teachers and schools should foster in children to enhance chances of success later in life. Our research found that specific behaviors in high school have long-lasting effects for one’s later life.”

To reach these findings, Spengler’s team analyzed data on 346,660 U.S. high school students from 1960, as well as follow-up data from 81,912 of those same students 11 years later and 1,952 of them 50 years later. The initial phase measured student behaviors, attitudes, personality traits, cognitive abilities, parental socioeconomic status, and demographics; the two follow-up surveys measured educational accomplishments, income, and occupational prestige.

Upon analysis, the researchers observed that being a responsible student, showing a fond interest of school, and having less problems with reading and writing were closely linked to greater educational accomplishments as well as securing a job of greater prestige both 11 years and 50 years after graduating high school. Additionally, the aforementioned factors were associated with higher income at the 50-year mark. The majority of these effects persisted even when the researchers controlled for other significant factors, such as parental socioeconomic status, cognitive ability, and other broad personality traits.

Spengler’s team wasn’t particularly surprised by their discoveries, but they were interested to see how incredibly reliable the predictors were—especially educational achievement. “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,” Spengler explained. “This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person’s life.”

American Psychological Association. (2018, February 26). Behavior in High School Predicts Income and Occupational Success Later in Life. [Press Release]. Retrieved on February 26, 2018 from

Spengler, M. (2018, February 26). How You Behave in School Predicts Life Success Above and Beyond Family Background, Broad Traits, and Cognitive Ability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved on February 26, 2018 from