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Jürges, Hendrik

The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy

Editor-in-Chief: Ludwig, Sandra / Schmitz, Hendrik

Ed. by Barigozzi, Francesca / Brunner, Johann / Fleck, Robert / Mastrobuoni, Giovanni / Mendola, Mariapia / Requate, Till / de Vries, Frans / Wenzel, Tobias

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Volume 17, Issue 2


Volume 6 (2006)

Volume 4 (2004)

Volume 2 (2002)

Volume 1 (2001)

Origins of Adulthood Personality: The Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Jason M. Fletcher
  • La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA
  • Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn, Germany
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Stefanie Schurer
  • Corresponding author
  • School of Economics, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  • Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn, Germany
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2017-03-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2015-0212


We test whether adverse childhood experiences – exposure to parental maltreatment and its indirect effect on health – are associated with age 30 personality traits. We use rich longitudinal data from a large, representative cohort of young US Americans and exploit the differences across siblings to control for the confounding influences of shared environmental and genetic factors. We find that maltreatment experiences are significantly and robustly associated with neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness to experience, but not with agreeableness and extraversion. High levels of neuroticism are linked to sexual abuse and neglect; low levels of conscientiousness and openness to experience are linked to parental neglect. The estimated associations are significantly reduced in magnitude when controlling for physical or mental health, suggesting that adolescent health could be one important pathway via which maltreatment affects adulthood personality. Maltreatment experiences, in combination with their health effects, explain a significant fraction of the relationship between adulthood conscientiousness and earnings or human capital. Our findings provide a possible explanation for why personality traits are important predictors of adulthood labor market outcomes.

Keywords: human capital; noncognitive skills; Big Five personality traits; adverse childhood experiences; maltreatment; siblings fixed effects; Add Health


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-03-31

The authors acknowledge financial support from an Australian Research Council Early Career Discovery Program Grant (DE140100463) and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027). This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

Citation Information: The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Volume 17, Issue 2, 20150212, ISSN (Online) 1935-1682, ISSN (Print) 2194-6108, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2015-0212.

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