A few studies have attempted to estimate links between health and cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies. The Almlund et al. (2011) review reaches the following conclusions regarding personality traits:

All Big Five traits predict some health outcomes. Conscientiousness, however, is the most predictive and can better predict longevity than does intelligence or background. Personality measures predict health both through the channel of education and by improving health-related behavior, such as smoking. (pp. 127-128)

Many of these conclusions are based on the meta-analysis of Roberts et al. (2007), who review evidence from 34 different studies on links between longevity and the “big five” personality traits. They find that conscientiousness was the strongest predictor among the “big five” traits and a stronger predictor than either IQ or socioeconomic status. openness to experience and agreeableness were also associated with longevity, while neuroticism was associated with shorter life spans.

Among individual studies, Conti, Heckman, and Urzua (2010a, 2010b) estimate a multifactor model of schooling, earnings, and health outcomes using data from the British Cohort Study. They find that cognitive ability is not a very important determinant of smoking decisions or obesity but that noncognitive competencies are generally more important for smoking, obesity, and self-reported health. More recently, Hauser and Palloni (2011) studied the relationship between high school class ranking, cognitive ability, and mortality in a large sample of American high school graduates. They found that the relationship between cognitive ability (IQ) and survival was entirely explained by a measure of cumulative academic performance (rank in high school class) that was only moderately associated with IQ. Moreover, the effect of class ranking on survival was three times greater than that of IQ. The authors’ interpretation of these findings is that higher cognitive ability improves the chances of survival by encouraging responsible, well-organized, timely behaviors appropriate to the situation—both in terms of high school academics and in later-life health behaviors.


Insights into the importance of transferable competencies for healthy marriages and other relationships in adulthood can be gleaned from the literature in a number of areas. Our review concentrates on three: (1) studies of couple satisfaction and marriage duration, (2) programs designed to promote healthy marriages, and (3) programs targeting teen relationship building.

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