20 April 2017

Nature and nurture dictate the social structure

Nature and nurture dictate the social structure
The study uniquely examines the multiple influences that drive social mobility such as childhood intelligence, education and personality

Climbing the economic ladder depends on personality traits as well as financial and social background according to research from the University of Aberdeen.

The study, published today (April 19)  in Personality and Individual Differences  found that as well as childhood social class, higher intelligence, having a personality open to new experiences and an absence of feelings such as anxiety, worry and fear were also associated with upward social mobility.

Using data obtained from a cohort of volunteers born in Aberdeen in 1936, this study uniquely examines the multiple influences that drive social mobility such as childhood intelligence, education and personality from data gathered as much as 70 years ago.  

Dr Roger Staff who led the study said: “Using volunteers born in 1936, in and around Aberdeen, who had their intelligence measured age 11, we were able to model social mobility over their working lives.  The study found that childhood social class, intelligence, a personality with openness and an absence of neuroticism (anxiety, worry and fear) were associated with upward social mobility.  These positive effects were predominantly independent of the level of education received by the individual.  

We found that where you start in life is as important as how good you are" Dr Roger Staff

“There have been previous studies that suggest certain personality traits drive social mobility or would be a contributor for social mobility but none of the work done in the past had the opportunity to adjust for childhood ability. This is only possible because the cohort has the age 11 IQ score recorded.  So as a life course type of analysis this study is rare. Essentially it was the opportunity to adjust for all these variables in early life and see where these people ended up.

“We found that where you start in life is as important as how good you are.

“There are lots of arguments about whether we are becoming less or more socially mobile and many would argue that social mobility is increasing through better education, better opportunities and legislation that doesn’t discriminate. 

“Our results show that where you end up in life is not only dependent where you start and how smart you are but is determined by your personality. “

Notes for Editors

This research was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK:

  • Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading charity specialising in finding preventions, treatments and a cure for dementia.
  • Our animation “What is dementia?” explains the essentials of dementia and the diseases that cause it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HobxLbPhrMc
  • We rely on donations to fund our vital dementia research. To help us defeat dementia, donate today by visiting www.alzheimersresearchuk.org or calling 0300 111 5555.
  • We are currently supporting dementia research projects worth over £27 million in leading Universities across the UK.
  • Our Defeat Dementia campaign, a pledge to raise £100 million in five years to grow the research field and accelerate progress towards new treatments and preventions, was announced by the Prime Minister at the G8 legacy event on 19 June 2014. For more information visit www.dementiablog.org/defeat-dementia

And the MRC:

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-one MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk 


Issued by the Communications Team
Directorate of External Relations, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen
Tel: +44 (0)1224 272014

Contact: Robert Turbyne
Issued on: 20 April 2017


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