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A Strong-Willed Population

How Russians’ personal qualities influence their income level


Russians who are open to new experience, conscientious, and emotionally stable have better chances of achieving professional and financial success. This is the finding of a study conducted by HSE researchers that analyzed the impact of personal qualities on the behavior of Russian citizens of various social and economic groups. The study was based on a vast range of data collected from 2000 to 2016.

The Power of Soft Skills

Psychologists distinguish two types of skills. The first type is hard skills. These relate directly to a specific area one is studying or working in (such as making calculations in Excel, writing articles, coding, etc.). The other type is soft skills, which are associated more with the personal characteristics and behavior patterns of a person in society. Among them are discipline, stress resistance, agreeableness, insistence, and self-confidence. 

A good command of both types of these skills is key to professional success. The extent to which one has strong soft skills often explains why two employees with the same level of education and work experience are not equally effective and are at different levels of their career.

HSE researchers decided to take a look at this issue from a different angle and evaluate the level of the human capital in Russia from the perspective of soft skills—what demographic groups have a better mastery of them and why?

To answer this question, the researchers used mass survey data collected as part of the HSE Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS-HSE) for the period of 2000-2016. During the survey, the respondents filled out questionnaires aimed at identifying their personality features among 'the Big Five': extraversion (disposition towards the outer world), agreeableness and readiness for compromise, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience). The aim was also identify a locus of control—the ability of a subject to interpret all affecting ambient (destiny, happenings, unforeseen circumstances) or internal factors (own capabilities, efforts, knowledge). All characteristics were analyzed depending upon gender, age, marital status, education, qualifications, and profession. 

The 'Big Five' in Moderation

According to the Big Five parameters, women turned out to be at an advantage. While they appear to be inferior to men in terms of openness to experience in foreign studies, in Russia, the situation is reversed.

Generally speaking, Russians did not demonstrate maximum levels of any of the five traits. 'The average levels do not exceed 3.2 points on a 4-point scale for a single trait of the Big Five,' the researchers noted. Nevertheless, there are nonetheless some differences between different demographic groups.

For example, in terms of age:

 Younger people are more open to new experience and the outer world

The highest level of openness to experience and extroversion is common among people aged 15-29. Subsequently, the older people become, the less open they are. People aged 60 and older demonstrated the lowest levels of this trait.

 Middle aged people are the most conscientious

Conscientiousness increases with age. Its features are perseverance, diligence, industriousness, commitment, and a desire for order. These qualities are typical for Russians aged 40-49.

 Older individuals can compromise

People over 60 are more capable of reaching a compromise and cooperating with others. However, this is the group that is characterized by the highest level of neuroticism—or, emotional instability.

Internal for External

The strongest personal qualities out of the Big Five are attributed to well-educated Russians, managers, highly skilled specialists, and those who are employed. This is not exclusively a Russian feature—foreign studies confirm the same. But where does the connection of social status with psychological characteristics come from? 'We do not rule out that corresponding noncognitive (soft) skills contribute to the (self) selection of certain professions and activities,' the researchers say.

For example, diligent and responsible people who are open to experience may inherently be more devoted to studies, which leads them to the best colleges, and decent education promotes their career and informs their choice of profession and area.

Hierarchies, Inequality and the Big Five

Hierarchies, Inequality and the Big Five

Moreover, higher education is associated with emotional stability. College graduates are less irritable and vulnerable to stress, and with that, they are more friendly, creative, and curious.

Managing positions are usually taken by people who focus their interests on the outer world—they have a rather high level of extroversion: sociability, enthusiasm, adventurousness, and energy.

The situation with workers is different. The ability to compromise is not their strongest skill, while unskilled workers overtake everyone in emotional instability.

Trade and service field personnel and office workers are more concerned, impulsive, and irritable. This is probably provoked by constant and not always positive communication with their clients. Neuroticism levels are lower among people who do not experience this in their work. For example, it is lowest among qualified agricultural workers. They are also leaders in terms of conscientiousness, the ability to make arrangements, and openness to experience.

Looking for Someone to Blame

Surveys of various years measured respondents’ tendency to take responsibility for their surroundings with several questions. For instance, a 2000 survey included the general question, 'In your opinion, can you make a difference for a better life?'

Back then, only 43% of men and around 30% of women said they actually could do that. These were the people with a well-developed (internal) locus of control. If this skill predominates, a person does not feel helpless in the face of problems and feels able to influence events in their life.  

Later—between 2005 and 2011—the situation improves, and the average level of internal control locus increased substantially.


In Russia, people aged 15-29 are frequently more critical of themselves than of the world. However, this quality fades with age and tends to be the lowest among those of the 60+ group.

Having a strong internal locus of control, just like the Big Five qualities, is more common among managers, people with higher education, and highly-skilled professionals. Nevertheless, the following is just as important:

 gender and marital status: inherent commitment is more common for men and married people;

 place of residence: rural residents yield in this respect to urban dwellers;

 employment type: those who are independently employed, employed off-the-books, or officially employed were more explicit in their desire to make their life better.

 health condition: having an internal locus of control is more common among those who consider themselves to be in good health.

Bringing Qualities to Life

Psychological properties, regardless of how one measures them, are associated with indicators of life success. Their level of development influences people’s salaries, their life satisfaction, their perception of their financial standing, their understanding of the limits of their power, the extent to which they are respected by others, and much more.

The three qualities that a person's success depends on are primarily openness to experience, conscientiousness, and emotional stability.

People with better developed soft skills have better chances of improving their income level. They are not inclined to consider themselves deprived of any rights, more often they feel respected, and they are satisfied with their financial situation and life in general. And this is not the case for Russia only, but for the whole world, the researchers say.



Authors of the study:
Anna Zudina, Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Economic Sciences; Research Fellow of the HSE Centre for Labour Market Studies
Vladimir Gimpelson, Professor of the Faculty of Economic Sciences; Director of the HSE Centre for Labour Market Studies
Rostislav Kapelyushnikov, Deputy Director of the HSE Centre for Labour Market Studies; Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Chief Research Associate of IMEMO named after E.A. Primakov (RAS IMEMO)
Author: Svetlana Saltanova, July 23, 2020