Bryan Caplan  

Longevity and the Work Ethic

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A new meta-analysis in Health Psychology finds that people with more conscientious personalities live longer:
Howard Friedman and Margaret Kern at the University of California at Riverside found that people who were less conscientious were 50 per cent more likely to die at any given age, on average, than those of the same age who scored highly (Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.5.505). This exceeds the effects of socioeconomic status and intelligence, which are also known to increase longevity.
HT: Eric Crampton, who points out that the joint effect of IQ and personality on health may be enough to wipe out the apparent health effects of income and status.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
OneEyedMan writes:

"50 per cent more likely to die at any given age, on average, than those of the same age who scored highly"
This cannot literally be true, because eventually all the less conscientious people will be dead and then it won't be possible for the likelihood of death to be twice as high as for the more conscientious.
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Also, I wonder it this is just a product of differing discount rates. People with low discount rates get higher benefits from living longer lives. Benefiting from conscientious behavior requires that others reciprocate. Yet they don't have an opportunity to do so, it might take years for one to pop-up. Having a low discount rate makes he returned favors of others in the future worth more to you today compared with the expenditure of effort to be conscientious today.

Zac writes:

I agree with OneEyedMan that the 50% figure is impossible in that context. The abstract says: "Results: Higher levels of conscientiousness were significantly and positively related to longevity (r = .11, 95% confidence interval = .05-.17). Associations were strongest for the achievement (persistent, industrious) and order (organized, disciplined) facets of conscientiousness" and this is certainly reasonable. Intuitively you would think there would be a correlation there.

People who are conscientious tend to see life's troubles as challenges and are known to cope better with stress in most cases. Also, conscientious people are more cautious, inclined to forward planning, and self disciplined. It stands to reason they they would exercise more, get at least enough medical care, avoid accidents, and so on.

I wonder what effect on health is stronger: the positive effect of conscientiousness or the negative effect of neuroticism (linked to all sorts of ills). In my experience the highly neurotic, highly conscientious person tends to be the kind of person who you always think could drop dead any second from overwork and overstress, but maybe its their conscientiousness (in part) that's keeping them alive?

Robert Speirs writes:

Perhaps as one gets older, one becomes more conscientious. You know, like growing up.
In that case, those living to great ages will be all or largely more conscientious no matter how much so they were at younger ages.

Joe Kristasn writes:

A better work ethic makes me live longer? I'd better stop goofing off at EconLog and get back to work. Now if only these chest pains would go away...

floccina writes:

Associations were strongest for the achievement (persistent, industrious)

I have not yet read the whole study, just the summary but I wonder if they included showing up to work every day as a measure of persistence and/or industriousness, which could also be a sign of good health.

aaron writes:

How do they define conscientious?

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