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Best Predictors of Income Success

Updated on August 10, 2018

What Characteristics Predict Income?

What about us helps us to earn more? Most of the factors of income success are attributable to our physical characteristics: gender, ethnicity, and height, for example. Other predictors are personal qualities such as an ability to work hard and a positive attitude. Education also correlates with annual income. However, all degrees are not equal. This article explains why. Further, it may be that the most important predictor rests in understanding how wealth is acquired, not in annual earned income. This article explores each of these and more.

Best Indicator of Success?

Which of these things best predicts income success? Answer before you read the article, then return and check the aggregate opinion with what you have read.

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Believe it or not, measured by income, the taller you are, the more you will earn. Arianne Cohen, who authored “The Tall Book” says that a worker can expect to earn an additional $789 more per year per inch. So, a 6’2” man can expect to earn $2,367 more per year than another man equal in all other ways, who is 5’11” in height.

College Degree

The higher a person’s level of education, the higher the average annual income. High school degree holders earn, on average, $43,165 per year. Associate’s degrees aid workers to bring home $54,861 per year. A bachelor’s degree makes a big difference, increasing annual wages to $82,197. A Master’s degree equates to an average yearly salary of $99,516. (2008 numbers for males). A doctorate earns around $129,773 each year. Still, those who earn professional degrees do best (see below).

There are additional income success factors. Mean earnings is a popular consideration. There is also the average employment rate. For example, a high school degree holder earns an average $43,165 per year. However, they are also unemployed 11.7% of the time. So, the average annual salary then becomes 43,165*.883 = 38,115 per year. Additionally, people without jobs need to occupy their time. Usually, that costs money.

U.S. Census Bureau- Education versus Unemployment Rate

Years of Education
Unemployment Rate
Employment 8.9% with a high school diploma. An associate's degree increases employment 3.6% more. Bachelor's degree holders are unemployed only 3.8% of the time.

Men Earn More than Women

Men earn more than women. You all already knew this. This article will not speculate on the reason for this. However, the gap narrowed from about $10,000 per year to about $7,000 per year from 1995 to 2008.

Negative Indicator: MBA

Actually, this degree has been found to have no effect on position or income. The only difference, one researcher learned, is that MBA holders tend to be one year older than non-MBA workers in the same career position. Another study showed that MBA holders were actually less productive than their peers who held only bachelor’s degrees. Yet one more study showed that workers with a degree in almost anything, from medicine to philosophy, could be given a three month course in business, and then outperform MBA holders.

Speculation is that an MBA holder feels simply having the additional degree establishes worth whereas non-MBA personnel feel they must prove themselves by performance.

And yet, about 40% of Fortune 500 CEO's hold MBAs. If you still want to pursue an MBA, look to the programs with the highest representation in the elite Fortune 500 ranks.

Top 10 MBA Programs for Producing Fortune 500 CEO's

Number Grads in Fortune 500
University of Pennsylvania
University of Chicago
Southern Methodist University

Professional Degrees

Professionals earn the most of all. Licensure limits access to service industries like accounting, engineering, law, and medicine. Women with professional degrees earn, on average, about 50% more than women with Master’s degrees. Male professionals earn about 67% more than their fellow men holding Master’s degrees. In 2008, a male professional earned, on average, $166,065 per annum.

A Positive Attitude!

That's right, dear reader! Your positive attitude is a fabulous predictor of success. The one who moans "Oh, whoa! I can't plant the seed today because there's a cloud in the sky." is much less likely to succeed. The one who sings, "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can," is the one who overtops the mountain.

More than a decade ago, I read an article in a business magazine. As a California native with three businesses in Philadelphia, it really hit home. The article noted that a small business owner was four times as likely to succeed if she moved at least three hours away from where she grew up and started a business there. The article proposed two reasons this might be. I agree with both.

First, moving to a new region indicates to the new business owner, "I don't know the local rules, so I better ask." Back home, there is an established mindset of "No one has done that, so it can't be done." A negative thought process prevails in the hometown setting more than it does in new environments.

The second reason is that the mindset of peers refuses to allow someone they grew up with to achieve more success than them. People say things like, "Jill? Didn't she get drunk and pass out at Mike's party freshman year?" Or something more direct like, "How can Bill start a business? I took honors classes; that guy earned only C's!" That negative jealousy can wear down the confidence of a new business owner. On the other hand, when they are too far away to see you, they mind their own lives and let you lead yours.

Attractive People Earn More


Good Looks have a Big Impact

A University of Florida study examined attractiveness (based on a head shot) and intelligence in relation to income and financial stress. Timothy Judge, PhD, found intelligence is the more important factor. But, Judge also concluded attractiveness relative to age group also has a large impact on income.

A study of 1,062 Canadians found that the attractive earn more than the not-so-attractive. The relation held best for men, older subjects, and women working where men primarily dominated. The relationship does not hold for career paths occupied primarily by women.

Another study by Cornell professor Michael Lynn showed that waitresses with larger breasts earned more in tips. Slender women and blonde women also earn more in tips, according to Lynn. The scientific nature of interviewing 374 waitresses about the perceived "sexiness" quickly breaks down when Lynn then concludes that "evolutionary processes" have brought this about.

For example, the correlation between height and income has been attributed more closely to height at age 16. This can be related to natural leadership qualities learned as a tall youth, when peers still yield authority to taller persons.

Favoritism in Promotion

Have you ever seen a collegue or coworker get a raise or promotion based on attractiveness, not ability?

See results

Thinner Women and Heavier Men Earn More

A woman weighing 25 pounds less than average will earn about $15,000 more per year. Opposite this, a woman 25 pounds over the average will earn $13,000 less than a woman of average weight.

For men, the opposite is true. One worker interviewed by CBS said that heavier men were perceived as having more authority and more power than a thin man. You can watch the newscast here: Weight and earnings

Owning a Business vs Working for Wages

According to popular author and successful businessman Robert Kiyosaki, the biggest predictor of success is financial wisdom. Kiyosaki describes this as “rich thinking” versus “poor thinking”. In his best seller, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Kiyosaki outlines how his biological father owned the biggest house he could afford, and had the top job in schools- but barely paid the bills at the end of the month. His “rich dad”, on the other hand, owned several businesses. Managers reported to rich dad on a weekly basis to report status and earnings.

Another title from Kiyosaki is Cashflow Quadrant. This idea contrasts the means to earn a living taught in school: get a good education, get a job, and retire. These are employees, and employees have poor thinking, and seldom become independently wealthy.

Another failure in the pursuit of true wealth is small business ownership. Robert Kiyosaki calls this “owning your own job.”

The way to personal wealth instead lies in being a true business owner and in investing. A business in this sense is one which does not require the physical presence of the owner. The owner receives a net positive cash flow from ownership, but does not work the business himself.

Kiyosaki considers four main assets as a means to personal wealth: businesses; real estate, paper assets like stock and bonds, and commodities like gold and silver. The idea with all these is to buy low and sell high.

If you have never read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, stop everything else and go to either Amazon or eBay and purchase a copy. The day it arrives, start reading it. When you finish, read it again and again. I provided links on this page so you can easily compare prices. Do this now. You won't regret it.

Military Service: -15%

A study by Joshua D. Angrist in 1990 showed that military service in Vietnam predicts a 15% reduction in lifetime earnings. Angrist compared white men inducted into the military against their white peers who did no military service.

Military Service harms income

It should be pointed out that military veterans often represent a disproportionate number of minorities, who statistically earn less than the national average. The study linked above does compare incomes of veteran ethnic groups to their non-veteran cohorts.

A Federal law, the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act provides that deployed Guard Members receive the same promotion and career advancement as their cohorts who entered company service alongside them. However, it doesn't work that way all the time. My employer treated me well when I returned from a 2003-2004 deployment. However, others in my unit were not as blessed.

One of the sharpest men with whom I served during my deployment was fired. He was a high school biology teacher. Events like this will lower the average income of veterans.

Of course, disabilities will also lower incomes for veterans. Physical and mental injuries can limit types of work.

However, this statistic may fade. Private and government programs are making a big difference in the lives of vets. Some large companies with critical logistics processes have found that veterans are reliable employees. Amazon, the U.S. Postal Service, and Aerotek engineering are some companies with high percentages of veterans.

The Strongest Indicator of Success

The strongest indicator of financial success is a professional degree. Engineers, doctors, accountants, surveyors, lawyers, geologists, architects, and other professionals with certification processes earn more. Because entry into the market is more difficult, competition for workers is strong, and professionals can demand greater compensation for their services.


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Somebody said that it couldn't be done, but he/she with a chuckle replied that maybe it couldn't, but he/she would be one who wouldn't give in till he/she'd tried.

      Great hub!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      8 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I don't usually read many articles on business (I wonder what that predicts) but this has veru interesting information in it. Perhaps the negative MBA factor caught my attention-- I've always wondered how useless that was. Voted up and interesting.

    • mljdgulley354 profile image


      8 years ago

      Very good information you have shared. The book you recommended is very good and helpful for those with the need to generate and keep their income.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      8 years ago from California

      I guess I agree with the other comments! Very interesting hub--

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Very interesting Hub. I was not too surprised at the findings, though. Good info.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting Hub, well written. Some of this I had heard before, but some of it was new. Good information.


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