Recent research in economics reveals a substantial impact of personality traits or noncognitive skills on outcomes related to educational and labor market success. A virtue of these noncognitive skills compared to cognitive skills in terms of policy interventions is their malleability up to late adolescence. Therefore, the complete time at school may provide a crucial investment in the formation process of these skills, and returns on specific investments during that time are economically meaningful. The aim of this paper is to investigate the potential role of a substantial change of learning intensity, i.e. the amount of curriculum per unit of time, throughout later secondary schooling with regard to personality development. To measure students' personality, we employ the Big Five Factors Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Furthermore, the Rotter Locus of Control, a measure of Self-Control and measures for Positive and Negative Reciprocity are used. In order to identify the causal relationship, we use an exogenously induced educational policy reform in Saxony-Anhalt, a German federal state, as a natural experiment. The reform was intended to reduce the time spent in higher secondary school by eliminating the final grade. Since the curriculum was roughly maintained, the reform gave rise to an increase in learning intensity. Our results show no significant effect of the increased learning intensity on any of the personality scores considered. To eliminate potential confounding effects, we control for a simultaneous age effect and for a possible trade-off between schooling and extracurricular investments. The results therefore promote that the development of personality in late adolescence does rather not depend on schooling investments.

Büttner, Bettina, Hendrik Thiel and Stephan Lothar Thomsen (2011), Variation of Learning Intensity in Late Adolescence and the Impact on Noncognitive Skills, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 11-007, Mannheim. Download


Büttner, Bettina
Thiel, Hendrik
Thomsen, Stephan Lothar


noncognitive skills, human capital formation, learning intensity, natural experiment, Big Five, Locus of Control, Reciprocity, Self-Control