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Self-Control: Determinants, Life Outcomes and Intergenerational Implications

SOEPpapers 1047, 80 S.

Deborah A. Cobb-Clark, Sarah C. Dahmann, Daniel A. Kamhöfer, Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch


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This paper studies self-control in a nationally representative sample. Using the well-established Tangney scale to measure trait self-control, we find that people’s age as well as the political and economic institutions they are exposed to have an economically meaningful impact on their level of self-control. A higher degree of self-control is, in turn, associated with better health, educational and labor market outcomes as well as greater financial and overall well-being. Parents’ self-control is linked to reduced behavioral problems among their children. Importantly, we demonstrate that self-control is a key behavioral economic construct which adds significant explanatory power beyond other more commonly studied personality traits and economic preference parameters. Our results suggest that self-control is potentially a good target for intervention policies.

Topics: Personality, Family

JEL-Classification: D91;J24
Keywords: self-control; Tangney scale; personality traits; intergenerational transmission