Article Assignment 1

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Mateo Carpenter
Professor Brian Vander Naald
ECON 109
1 March 2019
Personality and Field of Study Choice in University
Personality traits have been shown to affect a person’s academic performance in school,
along with their likelihood of finishing secondary school, attending university, and obtaining a
degree. Furthermore, personality traits can influence the probability of a person being employed
and also their earnings from employment. This research explores the relationship between the
Big Five personality traits and field of study choice. They chose to look at field of study choice
as it is “strongly linked to the subject matter graduates will specialize in, the kind of work
environment they will be working in, and the returns to their skills they can expect once they
enter the workforce” (Humburg 2017).
The research uses data of a large longitudinal Dutch youth study of 19,351 individuals
who entered secondary education and were around the age of 13 in 1999. Four months after
entering secondary education, all students were administered the Five-Factor Personality
Inventory to assess the personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness,
emotional stability, and openness to experience. The students’ pathways were followed until
2009 or until they left education. Their chosen field of study was grouped into six broader
categories: Humanities, Social Sciences, Business/Economics, Law, STEM, and Medical
Studies.
They hypothesize that individuals with particular personality traits “(a) enjoy some fields
of study and related occupations more than others and (b) are more productive in some fields of
study and related occupations than others. The main contribution of this study is thus the
inclusion of individual differences in utility functions as captured by the Big Five personality
traits – extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to
experience – into the prediction of individuals' field of study.
It is assumed that personality traits measured at age 14 are a good proxy for personality
traits at the time of choosing a field of study four years later. “Despite individuals' maturation,
differential continuity of personality in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood has been
found to be strong: the vast majority of individuals keep their relative position within the
personality trait distribution over time” (Roberts, Caspi, and Moffit [34]; de Fruyt et al. [18]).
The data was used to model the field of study choice as a choice between six discrete
alternatives and used a “multinomial logit framework to estimate how the Big Five personality
traits as well as cognitive skills relate to this choice.
The estimated associations between personality traits and field of study choice were
found to be what was expected with what is known about the preferences and comparative
advantages of people with certain personality traits. For example, an extrovert field of study
choice is shifted from STEM fields to Business and Economics and Law, as they expect more
opportunities for social interaction, persuading others, and for being the focus of attention. In
contrast, highly agreeable persons are less likely to be found in Business and Economic
programs, which is in line previous findings that “agreeable persons are less attracted to
aggressive, outcome-oriented, and decisive organizational cultures” (Judge and Cable ([25]). The
study also shows that while cognitive skills are more important than personality traits for
individuals' probability of entering university, the effects of personality traits and cognitive skills
are similar in size with regard to field of study choice.
Works Cited
Humburg M. Personality and field of study choice in university. Education Economics.
2017;25(4):366-378. doi:10.1080/09645292.2017.1282426.
Judge, T. A., and D. M. Cable. 1997. "Applicant Personality, Organizational Culture, And
Organization Attraction." Personnel Psychology 50: 359–394. doi:10.1111/j.17446570.1997.tb00912.x.
Roberts, B., A. Caspi, and T. Moffit. 2001. "The Kids Are Alright: Growth and Stability in
Personality Development from Adolescence to Adulthood." Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology 81 (4): 670–683. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.81.4.670.
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