MAR 30, 2023 6:00 AM PDT

Parents' Personalities Influence Life Outcomes of Children

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Parents’ personalities- such as how extraverted or neurotic they are- influence their children’s lives. The corresponding study was published in Infant and Child Development

Personality is associated with important life outcomes. For example, higher levels of conscientiousness or ‘grit’ are linked to more job and life satisfaction, health, and trust. Despite parents’ immense control over their children’s experiences, little research has examined how their personality impacts their children’s lives until now. 

In the current study, researchers investigated whether parents’ Big Five personality traits predicted their children's life outcomes. The Big Five personality traits consist of five traits, including conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness- cooperation with others, openness- creativity, and imagination- and neuroticism- sensitivity to negative emotions such as anxiety. 

For the study, the researchers involved 9395 children aged 11- 17 years old alongside their parents. Data included the parents' and children’s Big Five personalities as well as measures from children’s lives, including overall health, grades in school, amount of time spent on leisure activities, frequency of family arguments, and alcohol and cigarette use. 

In the end, the researchers found that parental personalities significantly impact children's life outcomes- even after taking into account their own personalities. For example, children with extroverted parents tended to have lower grades, while children with neurotic parents scored lower on several measures, including grades, overall health, time spent on leisure activities, and body mass index (BMI). 

They further noted that children tended to be healthier when parents scored high on agreeableness and conscientiousness. They were also more likely to spend more time in leisure activities when parents scored high in openness. 

Children's own personality traits also contributed to their life outcomes. For example, extraverted, agreeable, open, and conscientious children tended to have better grades, while those who were neurotic had lower grades. Extraverted children were also more likely to smoke or drink. 

Parent and child personalities, however, also worked synergistically in some cases. For example, the highest grades were achieved by non-neurotic children with non-neurotic parents. The researchers also found that neurotic children with neurotic parents tended to have higher BMIs. 

Joshua Jackson, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, lead author of the study, said in a press release

"So much of our personality is really beyond our control. If you’re introverted, you can’t suddenly become extroverted. But it is possible to change certain daily behaviors, especially if we’re aware of the consequences. We found that kids are likely to be healthier if their parents are conscientious. That’s very likely because conscientious parents encourage exercise and healthy eating. It’s a good lesson for everyone. Personalities are largely set, but behaviors can change."

Sources: Neuroscience News, Infant and Child Development


About the Author
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
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