How Character, Income and Education Impact Your Choices - And Your Success

Posted by Evan, 10 Aug 14

I’m fascinated by social science, particularly as it explains how you can make smarter choices that lead to better life outcomes. I’ve written extensively about the proven virtues of waiting to have sex, taking a longer time to get married, and not having kids out of wedlock. This is not to say that having sex on a first date, getting married in one year, or having children without a husband is a guarantee of failure (it’s not!), but rather that, such choices, on the whole, produce worse outcomes.

The through-line between these questionable choices is instant gratification. Studies since the Stanford marshmallow experiment have shown that people with the ability to delay gratification (study instead of party, abstain from sex or wear condoms, not abuse drugs or alcohol), are more successful in life. Which shouldn’t be too surprising.

“In a 2014 paper, “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence,” Richard Reeves and two co-authors, Kimberly Howard and Joanna Venator, focus on what they call “performance character strengths” and the crucial role played by noncognitive skills in educational attainment, employment and earned income. These character strengths — “perseverance, industriousness, grit, resilience, curiosity, application” and “self-control, future orientation, self-discipline, impulse control, delay of gratification” — make significant contributions to success in adulthood and upward mobility.”

I find it interesting to overlay these principles onto dating/relationship behavior. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the more resources you have, the more you’re trained in success, the more likely you are to be successful? Sure enough, that’s what Reeves finds.

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“Noncognitive skill levels rose significantly not only as family income grew but also as the mother’s education level rose. In addition, children in continuously married two-parent families did better than children with single parents.”

People who come from money and reached higher levels of education ALSO had more self-control, resilience, and perseverance. This is not a slam on blue collar workers with high school educations. This is an acknowledgment that the best predictor of your future success was the money and education of the family you were born into. The circumstances of your birth impact everything downstream, including whether you marry, stay married and have successful children (educated, employed, non-violent, etc).

In a 2011 paper, “The American Family in Black and White,” James Heckman, Nobel Laureate argues that “a key factor in determining a child’s future prospects is whether he or she grows up in a one- or two-parent family, a gap that has become apparent “between the environments of children of more educated women and the environments of children of less educated women.”

Fewer than 10 percent of women with college degrees in 2011 bore children outside of marriage, Heckman writes. They marry later and marry more educated men. They work more. They have more resources, have fewer children, and provide much richer child rearing environments that produce dramatic differences in a child’s vocabulary, intellectual performance, nurturance, and discipline. These advantages are especially pronounced for children of two-parent stable marriages. Children of such marriages appear to be at a major advantage compared to children from other unions.

I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge this again and again.

50% of children born to 20-30-year-olds are born to women without husbands. No one is shaming them. No one is saying they shouldn’t bear children. No one is saying they don’t have the right to choose life instead of having an abortion. No one is saying that they were impregnated by good men who want to be fathers. But let’s be crystal clear about this: children of single mothers struggle more than children with two parents. Uneducated parents without money have uneducated children without money.

“The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation. There is substantial data describing this vicious circle.

A 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of marital status for men and women at the age of 46 found that the divorce rate for those with only a high school diploma, 49 percent, is twice that of college graduates, 23.7 percent. The less well educated marry younger, 24.8 years, than college grads, 27.2 years… By 1980 the nonmarital birth rate for college-educated women was 5 percent; it grew to 11 percent in 2013. For women with high school diplomas, it grew from 24 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2013.”

I reiterate – this is not an attack on single mothers. I don’t know one single mother who would give her children back after the fact. This is a boldface plea to women who are considering becoming single mothers – either accidentally at 25 or on purpose at age 38 – to reconsider and prioritize finding love first. It’ll be better for you and better for your family as well.

The original NY Times article can be read here. Your thoughts, as always, are greatly appreciated.

Evan Marc Katz is a dating coach who specializes in helping smart, strong, successful women understand and connect with men since 2003. Thousands of his clients have fallen in love, gotten married, started families, and found happiness – after only a few months of coaching. His latest dating book, “Why You’re Still Single – Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad”, was a critical success. He also operates a popular blog,, which serves as a one-stop shop for anyone trying to understand relationship dynamics. Combining the insight of Dr. Drew and the wit of Adam Carolla, Katz has answered hundreds of challenging and controversial questions with a unique combination of logic, experience, and empathy. Take Evan's dating quiz.

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