Monday, August 11, 2008

Soft skills

Richard Reeves looks at the importance of soft skills in the labour market and the way that they contribute to inequality.

Recent claims about social mobility in Britain grinding to a halt are exaggerated. But it does seem that the likelihood of a person being upwardly mobile is increasingly influenced by personal qualities such as confidence and self-control. Julia Margo, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, has assembled an impressive body of evidence linking character to life chances. Her work, which draws on that by Leon Feinstein at the Institute of Education, shows that measured levels of "application"—defined as dedication and a capacity for concentration—at the age of ten have a bigger impact on earnings by the age of 30 than ability in maths. Similarly, what psychologists call an "internal locus of control"—a sense of personal agency—at the age of ten has a bigger impact than reading ability on earnings.

There is also a BBC Analysis programe here.

This fits well with the argument from Chris Dillow that self-esteem is associated with higher earnings. It is also consistent with his idea that we can see the world as a zero-sum or positive sum. If our circumstances, lack of resources and limited opportunity reinforce the zero-sum view of the world, this would tend to undermine our ability to get a better job; if our circumstances support a positive-sum view of the world with benefits from co-operation, trust and thrift, this will encourage this the behaviour that is more rewarded in regualar society - particularly the labour market.

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