Under Capitalism, the “Innately Conscientious” Usually Earn More


In the excerpt below, the WSJ summarizes an article that appeared in Forbes on March 12, 2007.  The summarized study implies that those who are innately conscientious end up being rewarded with higher income.  I hope it is true.  My guess is that the world comes closer to working that way under capitalist institutions, than under other economic systems.  (Note that this study was done by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, which implies that we’re talking about what happens in the United States.)


The insight originates in 1979, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics paid 12,700 young people $50 to take a range of tests, one of which required a simple code to be deciphered. The BLS has since surveyed the test takers regularly. Going through the data, Carmit Segal, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Business School, found a strong relationship between someone’s score in the coding test and his or her income over 20 years later, even taking into account differences in IQ.

Ms. Segal argues those who did well on the test were driven entirely by an innate conscientiousness, because candidates had nothing to gain from doing well on it.


For the full story, see: 

"The Informed Reader; Workplace; Job Test That Predicts Effort Gets Help From Professors."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  B6.

(Note:  the online version has a different subtitle:  "A Tricky Test Could Reveal Job Applicants’ Work Ethic")


2 thoughts on “Under Capitalism, the “Innately Conscientious” Usually Earn More”

  1. Merriam Webster online defines innate: “existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth.” As a person who generally takes pride in my work, paid or otherwise, I object to my hard work being attributed to factors beyond my control. It is just as easy for people who strive for excellence to say “good enough” as it is for everyone else. For people to say Jordan or Tiger are “naturals” is to ignore the thousands of hours of honest work they put into making themselves the best. Likewise, it is unfair to look at someone who does well even when it doesn’t make “cents” and say it is because they are “innately conscientious.” Quoting Nelly, “My work habit ain’t no habit man, I do it on purpose.”
    I thought your putting innately conscientious in quotes hinted at my point but it gnawed at me for a couple days.

  2. You make a good point Aaron. What I liked about the story was that it implies that the conscientious generally do better than those who are not conscientious. When I read and commented on the article, I glided over the “innate” adjective, and agree that it is unfortunate. I believe that conscientiousness is partly learned and partly chosen, but not “innate.” However, the central question that I was interested in is: do the habitually conscientious, who do the right thing even when no one is watching, do better in life, than those who only do the right thing when they are being watched? (My father thought that this issue gave us a reason to believe in God—if God exists, then we are always being watched, and thereby always have an incentive to do what is right.)

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