Does ambition predict success?


Ambition is a commonly mentioned but poorly understood concept in social science research. We sought to contribute to understanding of the concept by developing and testing a model in which ambition is a middle-level trait (Cantor, 1990)—predicted by more distal characteristics but, due to its teleological nature, more proximally situated to predict career success. A 7-decade longitudinal sample of 717 high-ability individuals from the Terman life-cycle study (Terman, Sears, Cronbach, & Sears, 1989) was used in the current study. Results indicated that ambition was predicted by individual differences—conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and general mental ability—and a socioeconomic background variable: parents’ occupational prestige. Ambition, in turn, was positively related to educational attainment, occupation prestige, and income. Ambition had significant total effects with all of the endogenous variables except mortality. Overall, the results support the thesis that ambition is a middle-level trait—related to but distinct from more distal individual difference variables—that has meaningful effects on career success.

Source: “On the value of aiming high: The causes and consequences of ambition.” from Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 97(4), Jul 2012, 758-775.

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