Responsible People Save Responsibly

Conscientious and generally responsible Americans save more for retirement than others, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center.

The research found individuals who are at the 85th percentile of conscientiousness earn about $1,500 more per year than the average American, which amounts to about $96,000 more in lifetime earnings and $158,000 more in lifetime savings.  

“Conscientious people are reliable, meet deadlines, and pay their bills on time,” said Angela Lee Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist and co-author of a paper on the subject with University of Michigan economist David Weir. “They are very hard working and self-disciplined. These are the people who go running, stick to their diets, and tend not to procrastinate.”  

Duckworth and Weir found that, collectively, personality traits have as much impact on earnings as cognitive ability. Respondents rated themselves using a scale of 1 to 4 on 26 personality traits: conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, extraversion, and openness to experience.   

The researchers concluded that adults who are more emotionally stable earn more per year than the average American, but they don’t necessarily save more. And, somewhat surprisingly, individuals who are agreeable or open to experience earn less and save less over their lifetimes. Extraverts earn about the same as introverts but save more money.  

The working paper by Duckworth and Weir, titled, “Personality, Lifetime Earnings, and Retirement Wealth,” is based on nearly 10,000 adults aged 50 and older who participated in the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS) in 2006 and 2008.

The working paper is at