I’ve been wondering all along which personality traits contribute to a productive old age. Two researchers at the University of California, Riverside have nailed one for me: conscientious people live longer. Their study showed that conscientious people are less likely to take risks, to smoke or drink to excess, to gravitate towards more stable jobs and relationships — and to live an average of two to four years longer.
What does conscientiousness consist of, anyway? The researchers identified three major components:
1) responsibility/self-control (socially responsible, self-controlled, not impulsive)
2) order (organized, efficient, disciplined)
3) achievement (achievement oriented, persistent, industrious).
Achievement and order linked most strongly to longevity. Clearly, those traits are desirable in an employee and essential in the self-employed. Ingrained early on, they certainly contribute to disciplined habits into old age.
An earlier study conducted by lead researcher Dr. Howard S. Friedman showed that conscientiousness measured in childhood could predict longevity decades into the future. Did your elementary school teacher check that box on your report card? Is it too late to develop good study habits and clean out those closets? Not according to graduate student Margaret L. Kern, who reports “some evidence that people can become more conscientious, especially as they enter stable jobs or good marriages. We think our findings can challenge people to think about their lives,” she adds. Act now, to keep the goody-goodies from inheriting the earth!