NEW YORK – How much is a child’s future success determined by innate intelligence? Economist James Heckman says it’s not what people think. He likes to ask educated nonscientists — especially politicians and policymakers — how much of the difference between people’s incomes can be tied to IQ. Most guess around 25 percent, even 50 percent, he says. But the data suggest a much smaller influence: about 1 or 2 percent.

So if IQ is only a minor factor in success, what is it that separates the low earners from the high ones? Or, as the saying goes: If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?

Science doesn’t have a definitive answer, although luck certainly plays a role. But another key factor is personality, according to a paper Heckman recently co-authored in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He found that financial success was correlated with conscientiousness, a personality trait marked by diligence, perseverance and self-discipline.

To reach that conclusion, he and colleagues examined four different data sets, which, between them, included IQ scores, standardized test results, grades and personality assessments for thousands of people in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands. Some of the data sets followed people over decades, tracking not just income but criminal records, body mass index and self-reported life satisfaction.

The study found that grades and achievement-test results were markedly better predictors of adult success than raw IQ scores. That might seem surprising — after all, don’t they all measure the same thing? Not quite. Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Heckman calls “noncognitive skills,” such as perseverance, good study habits and the ability to collaborate — in other words, conscientiousness. To a lesser extent, the same is true of test scores. Personality counts.

Heckman, who shared a Nobel Prize in 2000 and is founder of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Economics of Human Development, believes that success hinges not just on innate ability but on skills that can be taught. His own research suggests childhood interventions can be helpful, and that conscientiousness is more malleable than IQ. Openness — a broad trait that includes curiosity — is also connected to test scores and grades.

IQ still matters, of course. Someone with an IQ of 70 isn’t going to be able to do things that are easy for a person with an IQ of 190. But Heckman says many people fail to break into the job market because they lack skills that aren’t measured on intelligence tests. They don’t understand how to behave with courtesy in job interviews. They may show up late or fail to dress properly. Or on the job, they make it obvious they’ll do no more than the minimum, if that.

John Eric Humphries, a co-author of the paper, says he hoped their work could help clarify the complicated, often misunderstood notion of ability. Even IQ tests, which were designed to assess innate problem-solving capabilities, appear to measure more than just smarts. In a 2011 study, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth found that IQ scores also reflected test-takers’ motivation and effort. Diligent, motivated kids will work harder to answer tough questions than equally intelligent but lazier ones.

Teaching personality or character traits in school wouldn’t be easy. For one thing it’s not always clear whether more of a trait is always better. The higher the better for IQ, and perhaps for conscientiousness as well. But personality researchers have suggested the middle ground is best for other traits — you don’t want to be so introverted that you can’t speak up, or so extroverted that you can’t shut up and listen.

What does any of this have to do with economics? “Our ultimate goal is to improve human well-being,” Heckman says, and a major determinant of well-being comes down to skills.

A newer study published last month in the journal Nature Human Behavior focused on the flip side of success: hardship. After following some 1,000 New Zealanders for more than 30 years, researchers concluded that tests of language, behavioral skills and cognitive abilities taken when children were just 3 years old could predict who was most likely to need welfare, commit crimes or become chronically ill.

The lead author of that paper, Duke University psychologist Terrie Moffitt, says she hopes that the results will foster compassion and help, not stigma. Her results also suggested that helping people improve certain kinds of skills before they’re out of diapers would benefit everyone.




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The Oxford Dictionary defines Emotional Intelligence (EI) as “the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.

That said, renowned writer Daniel Goleman describes emotional intelligence as the number one reason for professional success. According to him, Emotional Intelligence is even more important than IQ in some instances. “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far,” he once said. Other studies have also suggested a direct relationship between employees with a high EI and professional success.


While IQ is something you are born with, EI is a skill that can be honed and perfected with a little practice. So, do you think you are an emotionally intelligent person? Find out for yourself with these telltale characteristics.


People with a high emotional intelligence also have a high level of self-awareness, which makes them listen to others carefully before jumping to conclusions or judgments. They are not quick to dismiss an idea just because it is different from their own. This makes them the number one go-to people for anyone who needs help solving challenges, issues or just a patient hearing. Emotionally intelligent people have a knack for sorting out problems and accepting different ideologies before they present themselves. They tend to become office favorites in no time.

Ability to handle criticism well

As mentioned earlier, a characteristic feature of people with high EI is self-awareness. This essentially means a deep knowledge of what sets them off. It also means that such people can appraise themselves on everything from faults to praise with honesty. So when criticised at the workplace for their mistakes, they do not go on an emotional roller-coaster ride. They try to analyse their mistake, identify the root cause and fix it so they don’t repeat it again.


Emotionally intelligent individuals are driven and easily motivated to strive for the best and achieve their goals. This is not because they expect a reward but because they simply possess a go-getter attitude. They quickly move from one task to another because their goal is to finish them fast.

Ability to balance well

People with high EI know how to strike a balance, and effectively at that. Prioritising work over other needs can result in unnecessary burnout and stress, which in turn lowers productivity. Compared to others, emotionally intelligent people can balance between the two because they know when to let go and when to plug in.

So are you an emotionally intelligent person?



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