Committed

Happy Teens Grow Up to Be Wealthier Too

  • Share
  • Read Later
She's got that "future high earner" look
Getty Images

She's got that "future high earner" look

Which comes first, happiness or money? Much scholarly head tapping has been devoted to examining whether richer people are happier and if so, how much richer? Nobel prize-winners have even looked into it. But a new study suggests that the question could perhaps be looked at the other way around. Happier teenagers, this study suggests, grow up to be richer adults.

The study, which appeared recently in the Proceedings of the National Association of Sciences, looked at thousands of teenagers and found that those who felt better about life as young adults tended to have higher incomes by the time they turned 29. Their happiness was measured on a scale of 1 to 5. Those who were happiest earned an average of $8,000 more than those who were the most despondent.

Read More: Study or Sleep? For Better Grades, Teens Should Go to Bed Early

The researchers, from University College London and the University of Warwick, used American data from the 10,000 strong survey known as Add Health, and say that their findings held firm even when factoring other variables that also tend to influence both happiness and wealth, such as IQ, education level, self esteem and even height. Very gloomy teens, no matter how tall or smart they were, earned 10% less than their peers, while more exuberant ones earned up to 30% more.

When the researchers repeated the study with sibling pairs—youngsters with the same parents and socio-economic backgrounds—the happier ones continued to earn bigger paychecks (which probably didn’t help the mood of the already more gloomy ones.) It may be that happier teenagers have an easier time getting through school, college and a job interview, partly because they feel better about life generally. It may also be true that happier people find it easier to make friends, who are often the key to homework help or networking. Let’s face it, Winnie the Pooh is more popular than Eeyore. And Big Bird is more popular than Oscar the Grouch.

Read More: A New Neighborhood May Boost Health and Happiness, If Not Wealth

The report arrives in a big year for the science of happiness. A report from Berkley’s business school in June suggested that professional respect was more important than dollars in terms of workplace happiness. In August scientists announced they had located the gene for happiness in women, monoamine oxidase A. (Alas, the same gene doesn’t appear to have the same effect on men.) And in October researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. and Dartmouth College in the U.S. announced that people who eat seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day report being the happiest.

The big question here is that if it really is true that happier kids end up being wealthier kids, where does that leave parents vis-a-vis homework? Make the kids do it, even though it makes them miserable, or allow it to slide, even though that will hurt their grades? Studies do show, after all, that more education leads to better paying jobs. Which, taken together with the current study results, only suggests a trickier solution: that it’s probably best to find a way to help children gain more satisfaction from doing schoolwork. “These findings show that the emotional well-being of children and adolescents is key to their future success,” one of the report’s authors, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve writes. “Yet another reason to ensure we create emotionally healthy home environments.”

Update: edited to correct typographical error.

9 comments
SK
SK

I can't find any evidence of a rather unusually named "National Institute of Sciences Teenagers." Can you post the link or the source? Thank you! 

LlordEevil
LlordEevil

I disagree.  Mental illness may increase your chance of being poor, but the mind achieves homeostasis and is just as happy no matter what situation the person lives in.  

OrginalLePhantom
OrginalLePhantom

This should be no surprise.  Those of us who have been around for many decades know that success in business is more about personality than effort, education, loyalty, etc.  Think about it:  How many times have you known a second rate employee with a great personalty in the corporate fast track?  Bet you can name some.  Why.... because they are good at gaining trust by feeding others' ego.  A sort of corporate comfort food.... if you will.

ScottAlexander
ScottAlexander

Maybe because they're rich in the first place as teens is why they're happy.  And the only way you end up rich in this country is if you win the lottery or if you know the right people (sometimes you need to know the right people to win the lottery too).  Success on your own makes up for about 1% of rich people.

garaysilvia28
garaysilvia28

What are we as parents accomplishing for our kids? This is not a matter of how many activities  do we enroll them or gifts that be provided but more than that its a fact of sharing love and make them feel important through their goals and expectations. Reinforce the power of love because their self esteem is listening.  

MickeyCashen
MickeyCashen

I don't think it's just the positive outlook on life that is happiness, but the fact that a lot of things that contribute to your future success make you happy.  For example, I've paid my 11-year old's sax lessons and bought him a good-model alto sax.  He changed schools due to his parents "movin' on up" to a higher income area this year and it took him a few months to get settled in.  So he was thrilled when he was named first chair saxophone in his 6th Grade Band.  He's been on Disney Caribbean Cruises, plays soccer (team MVP), basketball and lacrosse and previously spent a year to see if he liked baseball and wrestling, and during summers he attends day camps that go to major league baseball games, museums, canoeing, etc.  He does well in school.  He has a lot of things going for him because his family, who grew up poor themselves, know that's it better to give him many opportunities to learn skills and excel rather than spoil him with gifts.  And his experience in handling challenges and succeeding is producing a confident young man.

Contrast that with when we took the same nephew to a library in the heart of Baltimore when the "Harry Potter Bus" came through to promote one of the movies.  Admission to the library for kids required an accompanying adult.  They made wands, did the sorting hat, saw a magic show, etc.  "They" were mostly White and Asian kids of suburban parents who learned of the freebie and brought their kids in.  Meanwhile, outside the library, there must have been 100 Black kids starting through the libraries many windows who couldn't come in because -for whatever reason- they had no adult to accompany them.  Who do you think was happy that day?

OrginalLePhantom
OrginalLePhantom

@MickeyCashen  

Not sure I get it.  The first paragraph basically says I am giving the kid everything I can possibly afford (maybe more) and that is going to make him a happy adult.  Time will tell.  The second says the poor will be unhappy adults because their parents were off earning low wages and couldn't come to the library.  So these kids will grow up to be unhappy.