Study co-authors psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and economist David Weir of the University of Michigan say people at the 85th percentile of conscientiousness earn about $1,500 more per year than the average American, which amounts to about $96,000 more in lifetime earnings and $158,000 more in lifetime savings.
The paper is based on almost 10,000 U.S. adults age 50 and older who participated in the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study in 2006 and 2008. Study subjects rated themselves using a scale of 1 to 4 on 26 adjectives from the personality traits -- conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, extraversion and openness to experience.
The study found more emotionally stable adults earn more per year than the average American, but they don't necessarily save more. Agreeable people or those who are open to experience earn less and save less over their lifetimes, while extraverts earn about the same as introverts but save more, the study says.
"One of the exciting things about working on personality, as opposed to other aspects of the individual like IQ, is that there is some hope that conscientiousness can be changed, can be deliberately cultivated, particularly in children, but arguably across the entire life course," Duckworth says.
Nonetheless, what makes some people more conscientious than others remains a mystery, requiring further research, the co-authors say.