A new paper has added to the body of evidence of the role of confidence in decreasing social mobility.
‘Family Background, Self-Confidence and Economic Outcomes‘ by Antonio Filippin and Marco Paccagnella says that:
Even small differences in initial confidence can result in diverging patterns of human capital accumulation between otherwise identical individuals.
As long as initial differences in the level of self-confidence are correlated with the socioeconomic background…self-confidence turns out to be a channel through which education and earnings inequalities are transmitted across generations.
Filippin and Paccagnella say that the over-confident are more likely to stick with a subject during the early steep phase of the learning curve – believing that “I can master this if only I apply myself” – whereas the under-confident are likely to give up, thinking the material is too difficult for him/her.
An over-confident student is more likely to chose subjects which will get them into top universities, whereas the less confident will choose subjects which disqualify them.
In June, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that “self-confidence” is a key factor in whether pupils from poorer backgrounds succeed.
Other research has shown that overconfident people are more likely to choose professions where risk can equal reward, such as management, law journalism or politics. The less confident, because they will under-estimated their chances, would prefer jobs which yield less skewed rewards.
Overconfidence is perceived as actual ability, these people send out more “competence cues”; they talk louder, have more confidence in their opinions and use more emphatic gestures, all of which is wrongly interpreted as signs of actual ability.
The overconfident job candidate is thus more likely to get the job than the more rational one. The under-confident can also been manipulated. British business writer ‘Flip Chart Fairy Tales’ says:
However much we may despise social hierarchy and claim that we are beyond all of that now, the social conditioning associated with it runs deep. True, you get some very confident working class people and some awkward and diffident posh ones. The chances are, though, that if you meet someone who oozes that breezy effortless confidence, he or she probably went to one of the more exclusive [private] schools.
What this research is finding is that what we call ‘merit’ — academic achievement or career success — in many cases may in fact come from an overconfidence which is helped along by the social position someone is born into.
Filippin and Paccagnella say that:
“Our theory suggests that cognitive tests should take place as early as possible, in order to avoid that systematic differences in self-confidence among equally talented people lead to the emergence of gaps in the accumulation of human capital.”
Photo from ^riza^ via flickr
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