Academic ambition profoundly influences, if not determines, achievement and happiness in life

Wukong tells us that the ambition to study, if not the decision, is also a profound impact on life achievement and happiness.

And scientific research proves it.

A study published in the European Economic Review by Warn N. Lekfuangfu of the Carlos III University of Madrid in Spain and Reto Odermatt of the University of Basel in Switzerland provides a comprehensive analysis of the decisive role of adolescents' educational and professional aspirations, exploring the relationship between aspirations and achievement. And how aspirations affect later life (after age 50).

The authors used data from the Longitudinal National Child Development Study. Following more than 17,000 people born in the same week in 1958, the study completed 10 surveys since 1958 and collected data on socioeconomic background, including parental background and skills, teenage aspirations and life expectations, adult life achievements (including educational and career achievements) and life satisfaction. The early surveys also asked the subjects' parents about their expectations for their children, as well as teachers' predictions about their children's future achievements.

Research has found that having high aspirations drives higher achievement later in life. While other factors also influence achievement, such as cognitive ability or parental education, individual and parental aspirations appear to be the biggest drivers. Quantitatively speaking, career achievement at age 50 is strongly correlated with aspirations during adolescence, and aspirations formed during adolescence determine career achievement almost as much as cognitive ability.

The authors note that while ambition is partly influenced by socioeconomic background (children from poor families tend to have lower aspirations, for example), overall parental aspirations have a greater impact on children's aspirations than socioeconomic background, and these aspirations drive achievement further. Thus, parents encouraging their children to have greater aspirations, such as encouraging them to seek higher education or apply for positions they may have initially felt were impossible, can help them achieve more.

Many economists have previously studied the effects of a student's intelligence, ambition, family background, and university reputation on future achievement (as measured by career status and income), and while the conclusions are inconsistent, one thing is certain: Who young people want to be when they are 18 (entering college) is a better predictor of their future achievements than the school they graduated from when they are 22 (graduating from college).

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