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What makes people rich?

There are very few subjects that interest people more than money and how to get more of it. Imagine that you had a magic wand and you could ask it to grant you just one characteristic that would enable you to earn loads of money in your lifetime, what characteristic out of the following would you ask for?

· A high IQ

· To be fanatical

· High level of agreeableness

· Extroversion

· Conscientiousness

· Openness

100 years ago Lewis Terman of Stanford University began a psychological project that over the years has generated a fantastic amount of data that provides insights into a question such as this. The study tracked 1500 intellectually gifted children over their lifetime. The results have been used by economists to examine the link between personality and earnings. There is no doubt that education has a big effect on how much you earn. Those personality traits we have just considered affect education and they also have a direct effect on your ability to earn money.

It is disappointing but maybe understandable that agreeableness does not ensure high economic rewards in a lifetime. Being nice, friendly and sensitive doesn’t correlate with high incomes. Nor does openness and fanaticism. The characteristic that determines the greatest chance of high earnings during a lifetime is conscientiousness. Conscientious people study hard, work hard and hard work delivers high levels of earnings. Next in line (though some way behind) is extroversion. Extroverts have great social interaction and this is worth more dollars than a high IQ.

A new piece of research out of Imperial College London, Cornell University and Harvard University confirm the findings of those 1500 gifted children. This latest research determines that you need a good base of knowledge and education but increasingly this is taken as a given. The thing that makes the difference if you want to become CEO are the softer skills of being able to coordinate and communicate with multiple people. Extroverts are loaded with these.

As always these generalities leave interesting subgroups. Another survey by Stanford, this time of the Graduate School Of Business, surveyed 182 directors and CEOs and determined that almost one in five can be labelled as narcissists. These egocentric money earners at the top of the pile have got there by totally believing in themselves and telling others that they are the best.

So what do we make of all this? Certainly hard work and talent are critical requirements if you want to make a lot of money. Charisma that comes from extroversion is a big help. And increasingly, adjusting to the pressures of today, this egocentric person must show the capability of listening empathetically. These conflicting characteristics tell us what we’ve always known - that high earners may be envied for their money but so what, they are also weird.


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