Why Kids Who Break the Rules Are More Likely to Become Rich

Defiant kids are more likely to become entrepreneurs and innovators.

Posted Mar 29, 2018

Max Topchii/Shutterstock
Source: Max Topchii/Shutterstock

Imagine you are asked to look at a sixth-grade class and predict which students will earn the highest income as adults. Which kids would you choose? Would you go for the studious kids? The shy kids who are eager to please? The most athletic kids?

If you picked any of those groups, you're probably wrong: The defiant kids who break the rules could be your best bet, according to a 40-year study published in Developmental Psychology.

Rule Breakers Earn the Most Money

In 1968, researchers began studying 12-year-old students who were in the sixth grade. They examined the influence of their intelligence, characteristics, behaviors, and their parents' socioeconomic status.

Then, 40 years later, they followed up with those students. Not surprisingly, the ones who had been described by teachers as "studious" were more likely to have prestigious jobs. But the studious kids weren't making the most money in adulthood.

The highest-income earners were the "naughty kids." The kids who broke the rules and defied parental authority became the highest-income earners as adults.

Why Rule Breakers Earn More

The authors speculate that one reason why the 12-year-old rule breakers may have turned into higher income-earning adults was because they weren't afraid to negotiate higher salaries or raises.

The authors suggest another possible reason rule breakers earn more is because they value competition. Rather than worrying about getting along with others, they may be more interested in advancing their own interests.

The authors couldn't rule out the fact that some of the high-income earners could have been earning a living unethically. But the study didn't find any evidence that participants were engaging in this type of behavior.

Other studies support the notion that non-conformists may have clear advantages in life. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that agreeable individuals earn less than others. Another study, The Illinois Valedictorian Project, found that valedictorians were less likely to become millionaires than their peers. High-school valedictorians did well in college and went on to have prestigious careers, but they weren't likely to be the highest-earning people in their classes. In his book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker cites the study and writes, "School rewards people who follow the rules, not people who shake things up."

It's the kids who are willing to break the rules that go on to become entrepreneurs, innovators, and millionaires.

Channel a Child's Defiance into Something Positive

If you're raising a defiant child, you might find some solace in knowing that his or her rule violations could be an asset. Of course, you'll want to channel her energy into something positive to ensure she becomes a trailblazer who doesn't worry about pleasing everyone, as opposed to a criminal who disregards authority. Rather than squashing her spirit, help her turn her willingness to go against the grain into an advantage. Teach her empathy, so she is kind and caring, and give her consequences when she goes too far. 

But don't discourage a child from breaking a rule or two when he's not actually hurting anyone. He could grow to become a mentally strong person who isn't afraid to break the rules when doing so could make the world a better place.