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Personality traits as an engine of knowledge: a quantile regression analysis

Michael Polemis (Department of Economics, University of Piraeus, Piraeus, Greece) (Hellenic Competition Commission , Athens, Greece)

Journal of Economic Studies

ISSN: 0144-3585

Article publication date: 26 June 2020

Issue publication date: 9 April 2021



We use disaggregated survey data set to investigate the impact of personality traits on the level of education in the USA. We attempt to shed light on the contribution of each of the Big Five personality traits on the education decision made by the individuals.


We use the quantile regression analysis in order to investigate to what extent certain aspects of personality may help an individual to invest in education.


Our findings uncover a significant effect of noncognitive skills on the level of education. It is shown that people with high emotional stability and agreeableness invest in human capital, especially when we move to the higher quantiles of the conditional distribution function. Moreover, we argue that the estimated signs of the traits remain stable across the quantiles, while the relevant curvatures indicate for the first time in the empirical literature, the presence of nonlinear effects. Last, our model survived robustness checks under the inclusion of two aggregated higher-order factors, namely “Alpha” and “Beta.”

Research limitations/implications

Although we used several control variables (e.g. Gender, Age) to address the impact of noncognitive skills on education, special attention should be given to the use of additional socioeconomic indicators such as the skin color of participants, the urbanization rate, the level of unemployment, the level of income, parental education among others. These measures affect the causality driven by the inclusion of certain economic and demographic characteristics and minimize the endogeneity bias drawn from the inclusion of the sample variables. One additional limitation is that the survey-based data refer only to people with higher education (>13 years of study). Therefore, our empirical findings must be tested on a richer sample to capture the effect of personality traits on a broad spectrum of educational stages (e.g. early learning years, primary education, secondary education, etc.).


Our empirical findings add enough new insights to the existing literature. First, we attempt to assess the role of noncognitive skills proxied by the Big Five Inventory (hereafter “BFI”) on the education decision made by the individuals. Second, we provide fresh evidence of nonlinear effects between personality traits and education totally ignored by the existing literature. Our third contribution is to analyze the role of personality in enhancing the importance of investment in higher education as a determinant of individual behavior. In this way, we contribute to the growing field of behavioral economics since the study of noncognitive skills offers a range of new ideas and expanding research opportunities for social scientists (economists, psychologists, sociologists, etc.).



The author would like to thank Dr Jackson G. Lu from Columbia Business School, for providing the data set. The author would also like to express gratitude to thank Professor Bahmani-Oskooee, Mohsen (Editor) for allowing me to revise and thus improve this study. Moreover, I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their useful comments and suggestions that enhanced its merit. All the remaining errors are the author’s alone. The usual disclaimer applies.


Polemis, M. (2021), "Personality traits as an engine of knowledge: a quantile regression analysis", Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 48 No. 3, pp. 497-515.



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