Bryan Caplan  

The Effect of Thumb Sucking on Income

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Today I saw The Thumbsucker, a watchable movie about a troubled but talented 17-year-old with a bad thumb sucking habit.  It got me thinking: What's the effect of thumb sucking on income? 

If the thumb sucker is flexible enough to refrain until he's proven his worth on the job, I suspect the effect would be small.  We've all got our eccentricities.  But suppose the thumb sucker interviews with his thumb in his mouth?  I say he wouldn't get his foot - or thumb - in the door.  He'd be nigh unemployable.  Why?  Because he acts weird even when the stakes are high, signaling serious problems for his employer and co-workers.

Am I wrong?

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Evan writes:

A piece of anecdotal evidence: My mom told me once that she was interviewing a candidate, and she and the other interviewers rejected him nearly immediately because, though his resume was decent-looking, he had this annoying habit of constantly stroking his mustache.

shecky writes:
Am I wrong?

Are you seriously asking?

Alex J. writes:

My wife once fired someone for her constant unconscious whistling. It's not quite the same, since it was actively annoying other people in their open-plan office.

Lori writes:

Not signaling theory. Just the normal operation of the market(ing) economy. Image trumps substance, as always. Talent goes untapped. Market ideology congratulates self for "efficiency."

tom writes:

I think the thumb-sucking is a metaphor, and Bryan is really asking about whether Bryan could be hired by a private company given the way that he is.

Yancey Ward writes:

Bryan is correct. Like it or not, there are social expectations in behavior. If you are unable to control those personal behaviors in public that are outside that norm, then you will be significantly more unemployable. One might well complain that a thumbsucker would be worth the hire if he is talented enough, but not being able to control that behavior does make one wonder what other behaviors he might have that he could only control during the interview itself.

Bob Knaus writes:

As a high school dropout, I am able to grasp Bryan's metaphor immediately.

Tracy W writes:

Maybe a more interesting question is could he get a job a different way?
Temple Grandin, the autistic expert in animal management, says that every job she got, she got through the back door, through personal connections to people who already knew what she could do.
Or take Einstein - he was only offered a university physics position after he published those 4 incredible papers while working as a patent clerk, and apparently jobs were created for him on the basis of the quality of his work (although also apparently the number of university positions in physics was a lot smaller in those days, so his original lack of hiring by a university probably had a lot more to do with hardly any suitable places being open at all, rather than him interviewing badly).

Have there been any studies into the relative successes of those geniuses who can't, or won't, seem normal, versus those who can? (And how would you measure genuis in people who failed to peform, as opposed to lunatics who had a mother who was over-impressed by their intelligence? Or people who combined both genius and some mental problem flat-out preventing good quality work in their chosen field?)

Floccina writes:

Now if Lebron James had a thumb sucking habit the team would find a way to hire him. So it depends on how talent he is and how high the demand for his skills.

Floccina writes:

Also I am sure that a great computer programmer could get a job even sucking his thumb in the interview.

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