Is Personality Fixed? Personality Changes as Much as “Variable” Economic Factors and More Strongly Predicts Changes to Life Satisfaction

Abstract

Personality is the strongest and most consistent cross-sectional predictor of high subjective well-being. Less predictive economic factors, such as higher income or improved job status, are often the focus of applied subjective well-being research due to a perception that they can change whereas personality cannot. As such there has been limited investigation into personality change and how such changes might bring about higher well-being. In a longitudinal analysis of 8625 individuals we examine Big Five personality measures at two time points to determine whether an individual’s personality changes and also the extent to which such changes in personality can predict changes in life satisfaction. We find that personality changes at least as much as economic factors and relates much more strongly to changes in life satisfaction. Our results therefore suggest that personality can change and that such change is important and meaningful. Our findings may help inform policy debate over how best to help individuals and nations improve their well-being.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Throughout this study we refer to both subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Our use of subjective well-being refers to a the general body of research that has attempted to understand an array of self-report measures of well-being that includes, for example, moment to moment feelings and emotions (e.g. positive and negative affect), mental and physical health and cognitive evaluations of various domains of one’s life. Our discussion of life satisfaction, however, refers to a specific component of subjective well-being that represents a cognitive evaluation of one’s life overall. Life satisfaction is the particular aspect of subjective well-being used in the subsequent analysis.

  2. 2.

    A low R2 is fairly typical for these variables in large representative samples (e.g. Ferrer-i-Carbonell and Frijters 2004).

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Acknowledgments

The Economic and Social Research Council (PTA-026-27-2665) provided research support. This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the author and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the Melbourne Institute.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Boyce.

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Boyce, C.J., Wood, A.M. & Powdthavee, N. Is Personality Fixed? Personality Changes as Much as “Variable” Economic Factors and More Strongly Predicts Changes to Life Satisfaction. Soc Indic Res 111, 287–305 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-0006-z

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Keywords

  • Personality change
  • Big Five
  • Subjective well-being
  • Life satisfaction
  • Fixed effects
  • Income