Reasons Why Rebellious Kids Turn Out To Be More Successful

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Does your child get sent home with a note from the teachers because of disobedience, defiance or maybe talking back to almost everyone? Here’s a silver lining for parents of rule-breaking children: such surly kids with a classical defiance to authority could end up being very successful in life.

A new study published in Development Psychology suggests that your naughty child will probably grow up to have more occupational success and earn more than his/her well-behaving peers. The researchers measured occupational success by using an index that ranks careers based on prestige and socioeconomic status.

The notion that well-behaved kids don’t always finish first over the long run is not unheard of. Previous studies have found the character trait of “agreeableness” is negatively correlated with income and earnings. Perhaps on cue, these findings echo the popular Americanism attributed to legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher: “Nice guys finish last.”

Rebellious children tend to have higher incomes as grownups

Researchers with the University of Luxembourg, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Free University of Berlin tracked data on 745 people in Luxembourg from the time they were about 12 years old in 1968 until 2008, when their average age was about 52. They discovered that those who defied authority as children tended to have higher incomes as grownups.

In other words, after accounting for the impact of IQ-level and class background, the researchers found that “rule-breaking and defiance of parental authority” was the best predictor of which students ended up making higher incomes. The writers called this a “surprising finding” and admitted there were reasons to be cautious about it. But they did float theories on why this might be the case—theories that align with what other experts have said on the matter.

Keep in mind that many of what we see as disobedience or illicit activities in children is actually just natural, curious, exploring, learning behavior. Ross Levine, co-author of another paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research that identifies a number of characteristics in youths that tend to be associated with entrepreneurial success later on in life, says: “Those people who become the most successful entrepreneurs tend to have the unique combination of cognitive and non-cognitive traits.”

Here’re six reasons given by researchers why rebellious children often turn out to be more successful.

1. They are more willing to be more demanding during critical junctures

“We might assume that students who scored high on this [rebellious] scale might earn a higher income because they are more willing to be more demanding during critical junctures, such as when negotiating salaries or raises,” explained the Researchers with the University of Luxembourg, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Free University of Berlin. This means that a rebellious child can grow up to be more heard in the workplace, especially when decisions need to be made quickly and efficiently.

2. They have higher levels of willingness to stand up for their own interests

Another reason rebellious kids succeed as grownups might be that childhood troublemakers “also have higher levels of willingness to stand up for their own interests and aims, a characteristic that leads to more favorable individual outcomes—in our case, income,” said the researchers with the three universities. Making yourself heard in the workplace definitely leads to a higher salary.

3. They tend to push boundaries and reach for more and/or better

Alison Roy, lead child and adolescent psychotherapist at East Sussex Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the UK suggests that these “rebel” kids not only stand up for their interests, but also push the boundaries and engaged in “risky” activity. “Children who have been responded to, led to believe – in a healthy way – that their voice is valued, that all they have to do is object and action will be taken – they will push boundaries. And this is really healthy behavior,” she is quoted saying. Rebellious children question the status quo, which can lead to serious progress!

4. They tend to stay in school longer and are more likely to pursue higher education

It turns out that kids who defy their parents stay in school longer and are more likely to pursue higher education, according to the study in Development Psychology. This can be taken to mean that the kids are better qualified and thus better placed for higher pay and occupational success. Even those kids who drop out of college don’t necessarily fail. The paper for the National Bureau of Economic says 54 percent of these college dropouts tend to have entrepreneurial success without college degrees. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page who dropped out of college to start Facebook and Google respectively.

5. They tend to be more likeable, even after meeting them for just a short time

Other studies have found that people who are more likely to break the rules are more likeable, even after meeting them for just a short time. Likeability can lead to success because even secondary connections that are memorable lead to friendships, professional relationships, and more. In addition, likeability is not usually associated with more extreme anti-social behavior, such as violence or intimidation. Interestingly, studies estimate that between 40 and 60 percent of the population carry the “rebel” gene linked to rebellious behavior.

6. They may be more successful for unethical reasons

Researchers in the study published in Development Psychology point out a more concerning reason that children who exhibit rebellious behavior can grow up to be more successful. “We also cannot rule out that individuals who are likely or willing to break rules get higher pay for unethical reasons,” the researchers wrote in the recently published paper.

In view of these findings, it is important to ask ourselves two important questions: firstly, is an obedient child cause for concern or celebration? Secondly, and this is important, is an obedient adult cause for concern or celebration? Obviously an obedient adult is not quite so attractive.

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