Monday, November 02, 2009

High conscientiousness predicts poor credit score?

I am intrigued by personality variations among populations for many of the same reasons I am interested in how IQ relates to other social attributes, but have been skeptical of the reliability of state level measurements of the Big 5. Eyeballing the research released last year by Peter Jason Rentfrow of Cambridge University, I've had trouble recognizing much in the way of plausibility. Anyway, Razib swiftly highlighted the interesting correlations that have been found to exist (some of which are expected, others which are not). Rentfrow's data suggest, for example, that North Dakota is the nation's most extraverted state--not quite what is expected from an old, sparsely populated state primarily comprised of Norwegians, Germans, and Native Americans, groups not traditionally known for loquacity.

Running a state-level analysis comparing the relationships of estimated conscientiousness (C) and estimated IQ with average credit score does nothing to dissuade me from this skepticism. Because only state rankings (rather than actual figures) are available from Rentfrow's research on Big 5 personality factors, average credit scores and IQ are also displayed in the form of 1-50 rankings. Consequently, both relationships with credit scores appear more linear (and thus more vigorously correlated) than they actually are. The first graph shows how C and credit score relate to one another:

Yes, you are interpreting that correctly. Quite surprisingly, the relationship is an inverse one, yielding an r-value of -.47 (p=.0006). That is, as conscientiousness apparently increases, credit scores decrease.

A credit score measures a person's creditworthiness--how likely he is to pay back what he borrows in a timely and complete manner, live within his means, and effectively manage his personal finances. Government interference notwithstanding, it determines how able he is to achieve home ownership. The traits resulting in higher credit scores are largely captured by a person's level of C. Wikipedia defines conscientiousness as follows:

The trait of being painstaking and careful, or the quality of acting according to the dictates of one's conscience. It includes such elements as self-discipline, carefulness, thoroughness, organization, deliberation (the tendency to think carefully before acting), and need for achievement. It is an aspect of what has traditionally been called character. Conscientious individuals are generally hard working and reliable.
Might the credit scores released by be unreliable? Very doubtful given the strong, positive correlation between a state's average credit score ranking and average IQ (+.83, p=0). The proceding graph depicts this relationship:

My intention is not to dismiss Rentfrow's research, though it is difficult not to be hesitant in endorsing it when the reported findings so sorely lack face validity. As a result, I am presently unsure of what to do with his work, but have in mind other correlations to investigate.


Phoenixism said...

This is all too ambiguous and vague.

You have so many variables...creditworthiness, conscientiousness...

In fact, I just read the other day that the typical FICO score is not helped by the attributes you would instinctively expect...paying on time, paying in full, closing cards, etc.

And someone like me who has very little credit and pays it off monthly...and I have no urge to own a house. According to this study, my creditworthiness is a mess. And yes, I'm very conscientious.

OneSTDV said...

Perhaps these big Five traits are much more nebulous than IQ and thus less predictive of real world behavior.

Jason Malloy said...

Self-rated personality measures do have decent external validity, but are obviously imperfect. Group differences are particularly problematic. For instance, they do not reveal racial differences in the US, and at the international level, black nations rate themselves high in conscientiousness and Asian nations rate themselves low in conscientiousness.

Personality needs to be assessed more in revealed behaviors. For instance, temperament measures, which rate observed behaviors, show Asian-white differences in introversion, but Big 5 self-rating measures do not.

agnostic said...

I think you need to run a regression that controls for income. We'd only expect conscientiousness to distinguish two people's credit score when they're making roughly the same amount of money, or whatever the relevant financial control is.

Anonymous said...

" I think you need to run a regression that controls for income."

could also control for IQ.

FeministX said...

I don't know what the scientific implication of this is, but I've always found valuing conscientiousness to be a sign of proleness. I know that actually being conscientious is very useful, but fixating on it seems to be a lower class social more.

The type of people that truly believe "cleanliness is next to Godliness" are the type of people to have lower paying jobs which require them to focus on small details rather than the big picture. Compliance managers and career admin types tend to be highly conscientious.

Perhaps people with a more long range big picture focus end up with higher credit ratings, while people that rate themselves as conscientious are those who are more penny wise and pound foolish.

Audacious Epigone said...


Those are the only two variables. It's simplistic, not overly complex.

Are you referring to Razib's recent post at GNXP? Unless you are destructively impulsive, it is a bad idea not to have a credit card--credit cards net the TVM benefit from when the charge is made from when the payment is due, most cards provide rewards, the debt obligation is with the card company, etc. And it shows you have an income base, too.

Yes, paying on time definitely does help your credit score. Closing cards is not helpful, nor does having unused lines help. Philosophically, though, this makes sense--responsible people exist within a budget and do not need to abruptly expand or decrease the amount of credit they have available to them, especially if they don't make use of it.

Have you checked to see what your credit score is? If you have no outstanding credit card debt, I wouldn't be surprised if it's at least in the upper 600s.


Those are basically my sentiments.


Right, the question is, are they too imperfect to use in this way (looking at associations with other variables/behaviors at the state level)?


Well, I only have rankings to work with here, but I do wonder if that would leave any relationship at all. Still, it is remarkable in itself that something like credit score, for which all the tendencies of high conscientiousness work to increase, appears to correlate so much more strongly with IQ than it does with C.

Audacious Epigone said...


The link I meant to refer to.


Proleness, or an indicator of middle class values? Celebrating it strikes me as indicating a socially middling position, rather than a propensity of the underclass. But your observation does get me thinking that affluent SWPL types are in some sense ashamed of their high levels of conscientiousness. Fancifully, they dream of fretting less about the future, and living and working more spontaneously and with less regard for the mores of their social circles than they do (dreck social 'commentators' on NPR epitomize this). In reality, though, they just can't (and don't really want to) do so.

Steve Sailer said...

Personality testing really needs some way to norm across subcultures. It seems like it does a fine job on, say, distinguishing among University of Illinois psychology majors (is that where Raymond Cattell worked?), but once you get outside of a particular group with the same references, it falls apart on the between-group predictions (while, apparently, remaining okay within group).

Maybe they should first show testakers a soap opera episode and then tell them what ratings on the Big 5 the major characters have, and only then let them rate themselves. That way everybody would have something in common.

It would probably be best to use a fairly low quality show where characterizations are very straightforward -- even a kid's movie like The Wizard of Oz is way too complex to use as a reference.

silly girl said...

"The type of people that truly believe "cleanliness is next to Godliness" are the type of people to have lower paying jobs which require them to focus on small details rather than the big picture. Compliance managers and career admin types tend to be highly conscientious."

Hmm, not sure I agree with this. Perhaps I misunderstand. I know people who have maids and ones who don't but they all have cleanliness as a top priority. One of my friends came to the US as a refugee and had to live on welfare for a few months while she learned English. She worked fast food 60 hrs a week as a manager till she got some certification to file insurance paperwork. Her house was spotless and she always had money and a good credit score. She finally remarried and bought a house. I helped her get her son into the best public schools in town, where he is doing great. I would be damned surprised if her son ends up prole. Very tall, smart and good looking.

She says this is the greatest country in the world. I have worked with other refugees but she is the only one who became a long time family friend.

Poor as temporary circumstance ≠ prole.

Lazy, dirty = prole

Phoenixism said...

I use my blinkers even when I don't really need to. Does that make me conscientious?

I work on a corporate floor (our department was transplanted there) and I dress in jeans and a t-shirt about 85% of the time. Does that make me conscientious?

Self-assessed personality traits (especially one like conscientiousness which is generally believed to be a desirable trait, notwithstanding FeX's contrarian rebelliousness) is about as dependable as a questionnaire which seeks to self-quantify people's nose-picking habits. "Conscientiousness"...c'mon, calling that a singular variable is a charade and overly convenient statistical masturbation.

And credit worthiness?? Ha! The whole concept is a polluted sham which has been subject to Kafkaesque twists by the financial institutions and the rest of our corporacracy.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yeah, Cattell worked at the University of Illinois after WWII.