Study Examines How Life Path Influences Personality in Young Adults

Adolescents experience their most significant personality changes as they transition into adulthood. Many young people leave home to pursue higher education, while others enter the workforce. Previous research has shown that personalities develop most significantly between the ages of 18 and 30, causing unruly teens to become more socially adept, caring and agreeable. However, little research has been conducted to determine how the life path chosen, school or career, influences those personality changes. Recently, researchers at the University of Tuebingen, in Germany, collaborated with researchers from the University of Illinois, to determine exactly how life choices affected personality traits in young adults. Using participants from the Transformation of the Secondary School System and Academic Careers (TOSCA) study, the team examined approximately 2,000 German students, over a four year period, assessing them at three different points. The researchers first evaluated the teens when they graduated high school, and again two and four years later. Each time, the participants completed a questionnaire that asked them about their life path and assessed the Big Five personality traits.

The researchers found, consistent with previous studies, that as the children aged, they became more emotionally mature and conscientious. They also discovered that the participants who entered the workforce upon graduation saw a more rapid increase in conscientiousness than the college-bound participants, but were less agreeable than their college peers. The researchers believe this could be the result of several factors. “For example, people who pursue more vocational or work-related goals tend to see themselves as less agreeable. Thus, the provisional identity of the student following the vocational path would be one in which he or she envisions taking the more demanding road in which personal relations may have to be sacrificed in the service of hard work,” they said. “In contrast, the identity structure of the more typical university-focused student may be less serious (attending classes is optional) and mutually rewarding (agreeable).”

Lüdtke, Oliver, Brent W. Roberts, Ulrich Trautwein, and Gabriel Nagy. “A Random Walk down University Avenue: Life Paths, Life Events, and Personality Trait Change at the Transition to University Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101.3 (2011): 620-37. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Natalie


    September 14th, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    Our life choices do shape our personality,after all those choices were an extension of our personality in the first place!its like a cycle…starts with our personality,goes on to the choices that we make and comes right back to influence our personality.

  • ANNE


    September 14th, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    Life choices early on are so important, as they really do shape the kind of person we become. What surprises me here is that are personalities are effected mostly between ages 18-30 while I would have thought it would be more around ages 8-18. As a middle school teacher it surprises me immensely to think that the more obnoxious, carefree students might switch personalities with the hard working more reserved ones. I’m trying to think about some of my very kind students turning into party goers, but I just can’t even imagine it! Certainly a shocker for me.

  • Lindsey C

    Lindsey C

    September 15th, 2011 at 4:15 AM

    Or rather how the personality that we have influences the life path that we choose?

  • wren


    September 15th, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    every little thing that we come across has an effect on is-every little interaction with someone or something,every little event and object-they all affect us.

    Life is like a journey wherein the things and people that we come across contribute to how the journey is and our memory is then dependent on what we saw and who we met. So important things like education,career and others do play a role on shaping us.

  • Kaleigh


    September 15th, 2011 at 12:50 PM

    This is definitely one of those questions that can really make you take a step back and think. You think about all of the decisions and choices that you have made in your own life and how one little thing could have completely changed your life path for better or for worse.

  • Terry Collins

    Terry Collins

    September 15th, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    Our personality is a reflection of everything that comes our way in life. Education and career are some of the most important aspect ms of one’s life and it is only imperative that they have a bearing on how we turn out!

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