Published: August 16, 2019

Higher levels of self-control deliver broad benefits for individuals, their offspring, and societies as a whole and should be a target of intervention policies, particularly for children.

This is a key finding of a new Life Course Centre Working Paper, which provides the first comprehensive empirical understanding of self-control (the ability to override impulses, resist temptation, and as a result achieve long-term goals) using nationally representative data from Germany. The richness of this data, which includes a well-established measure of self-control, allows the authors to produce evidence on:

  • the determinants of adult self-control
  • the role of self-control in predicting key life outcomes such as educational attainment, health, labor market outcomes, financial well-being, and life satisfaction
  • the intergenerational implications of parental self-control for child development.

The study is authored by Life Course Centre Chief Investigator Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark and Research Fellow Dr Sarah Dahmann of the University of Sydney, in conjunction with Dr Daniel Kamhöfer and Professor Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. They find that people’s age as well as the political and economic institutions they are exposed to have a meaningful impact on their level of self-control. A higher degree of self-control is, in turn, associated with better health, educational and labour market outcomes as well as greater financial and overall well-being. Parents’ self-control is also linked to reduced behavioural problems in their children.

The authors conclude that self-control is a clear target for intervention policies, and that such policies have shown to be successful when targeted at children. They point to a greater understanding of the life outcomes, intergenerational implications, and societal benefits associated with greater self-control being of great interest to politicians and economists alike.


You can read the full Working Paper here.