Money

Happy teens likely to earn more in adulthood

Nov. 19, 2012 at 7:06 PM ET

By Trevor Stokes, MyHealthNewsDaily contributor

Gloomy teens, take heed — your more happy-go-lucky classmates will likely earn more than you, according to new research.

Researchers followed more than 10,000 U.S. adolescents over a decade and found that happiness during the teen years and young adulthood was linked with income at age 29.

Downcast teens earned 30 percent less than the average salary at age 29, whereas happy teens earned 10 percent above average, according to researchers.

"Happiness is a good predictor of income," even after factors such as gender, IQ, physical health and height are taken into account, said study researcher Andrew Oswald, a professor of economics at the University of Warwick in England.

Why high spirits may translate to bigger salaries is unknown, but happiness during the teen years may allow people to focus on the tasks at hand instead of dwelling on their feelings.

"If you're happy, you have less worries and distractions and stress that probably divert you away from the things that are important for work and getting promotions," Oswald said. "People who worry less can concentrate on being better employees."

Happiness and money

People in the study completed questionnaires about their emotional well-being at ages 16, 18 and 22, and researchers followed up with them when study participants reached age 29, as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

The teens were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a five-point scale, and researchers found that each 1-point increase was associated with a $2,000 increase in income by age 29 on average.

Even within families, the researchers found that happier teens earned more than their more woeful siblings.

But teens can't simply grin their way to bigger paychecks, Oswald said. The researchers found that teens also benefited from being outgoing and having fewer neuroses.

The researchers emphasized that the link may work in both directions, with income levels and happiness influencing each other. Among study participants, happiness levels were further boosted by earning a college degree, getting hired for a job and receiving promotions, researchers found.

How parents might help gloomy teens

Parents can help their teens improve their incomes, experts said. 

"One take-home message for parents might be that actually, it is important how your kids are feeling," Maria Iacovou, senior research fellow at the University of Essex in England, told MyHealthNewsDaily. Iacovou studies how families affect children's incomes, but was not involved in the new study.

" Children's mental health and well-being — when they're teenagers — maybe it isn't just something that should be ignored and be assumed it will all come out right in the end, it is something that should actually be paid attention to right here and right now," Iacovou said.

However, this doesn't mean that teens can or should simply start smiling more.

"The effects in this paper are not small by the standards of social sciences, but they're not huge," Iacovou said. "It doesn't mean that if you have a gloomy teenager or if you are a gloomy teenager that you will necessarily end up with the rest of your life ruined."

The study appeared online Nov. 19 in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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