Rebellious children 'more likely to end up rich'

A certain Microsoft founder got in trouble with the law and he didn't do too badly.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 24 Jul 2015

Nice guys and gals, it seems, may well finish last – when it comes to income anyway. A recent study found those who broke rules as a child were more likely to end up wealthier than their well-behaved peers.

The research, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, compared data on 745 12-year-old children in Luxembourg from 1968, including teacher and child questionnaires and socioeconomic indicators, to how they were doing 40 years later.

Unsurprisingly, ‘occupational success’ (measured, perhaps somewhat arbitrarily, by an index ranking careers by prestige and socioeconomic status) was closely correlated with family wealth and IQ. But ‘rule-breaking and defiance of parental authority’ was the best predictor of which children went on to rake in the highest incomes.

The researchers suggested the ‘surprising’ finding could be down to rebellious children being better at negotiating higher salaries in adulthood or more willing to stand up for their own interests.

Of course the study has its limitations. For one, not all countries are like the tiny, uber-wealthy duchy of Luxembourg. But it’s not the first piece of academic research to confirm the ‘nice guys finish last’ mantra when it comes to wages.

It also fits with other research that shows children who chafe against authority are more likely to go on to become entrepreneurs. Not every ‘square peg’ will become as rich as Richard Branson or Bill Gates, who was famously arrested aged 22 for running a red light and driving without a licence. And many managers decide having a Kevin Pietersen-esque genius on a team just isn’t worth the bother.

But it’s nonetheless not surprising many people who rebel against accepted wisdom from a young age can turn out successful, however you define that.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime