Educational tracking and personality formation: Evidence from a dual system

Authors: Jesper Fels Birkelund,
Issue: 2022
Link to Publication (External Site)

Research on the effects of educational selection has tended to focus on how it affects academic development and achievement. This project asks a different question: does the educational track on which we are placed as teenagers affect the development of personality traits?

Personality traits continue to develop throughout the adolescent and early adult years, and can change in a response to personal and environmental changes and shocks. The study uses data on a sample of 3400 Danish children born in 1995 and asks if they displayed different personality traits after their transition into secondary education. It finds enrolment in the vocational track in upper secondary education increases conscientiousness significantly more than enrolment in the academic track.

No other personality traits are affected by this track placement. While mean levels of openness to experience, extraversion, and agreeableness are stable over time, average emotional stability appears to decrease among students in both academic and vocational tracks. This is contrary to studies from other countries, which generally find emotional stability increases during the adolescent years.

The influence on conscientiousness is greater among students taking on an apprenticeship and learning a skilled trade, suggesting that the effect is influenced by the development of a skilled worker identity. The findings support the theory that entering new environments is associated with new social roles which can influence young people’s behaviour and personality.