HOUSTON — Assigning adolescents some household responsibilities once they reach a certain age has been a staple of responsible parenting for centuries. Mundane tasks like vacuuming, taking out the garbage, or cleaning their room are intended to teach children the basics of taking care of themselves, not relying on their parents for everything, and self-control. On the surface, it would seem that this age-old practice has stood the test of time and is undeniably a pillar of raising a responsible, well-adjusted member of society. Surprisingly, a new study finds that childhood chores may not help kids develop self-control after all.
To be clear, the study’s authors defined self-control as an integral personality trait that allows one to control their impulses, focus their attention, and perform a task or chore even when they have a desire to avoid it.
To come to this conclusion, researchers from the University of Houston and the University of California, Davis analyzed data originally collected in California as part of a 10-year longitudinal study on Mexican youths at various ages (10, 12, 14, 16, and 19). Among the studied families, children self-reported how much self-control they believed they had, and parents were also surveyed. Besides that information, the 10-year study also gathered data on various aspects of the children’s lives, including their day-to-day home life and any chores they were typically asked to perform.
The research team looked over and analyzed all of this data in order to determine if self-control and household chores co-developed between the ages of 10-16. They were surprised by what they found.
“We found no evidence of co-developmental associations between chores and effortful or self-control, with four out of four of our hypotheses receiving no empirical support. These null effects were surprising given the strong lay conceptions and theoretical basis for our predictions.” says study author Rodica Damian, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston, in a release.
However, that doesn’t mean researchers are suggesting parents abolish childhood chores altogether.
“Maybe chores don’t matter for personality development, but they still predict future chore behavior,” Damian adds. “It is a stable habit and having a tidy home is not something to ignore.”
The study’s authors were originally inspired to conduct this research thanks to another, earlier study that had found doing homework was associated with being more conscientious. This is the first ever set of research to examine the relationship between childhood chores and self-control.
Additionally, Damian and her team looked into another self-control matter unrelated to chores; if self-control levels between the ages of 10-16 predicted better career outcomes in young adulthood. Indeed, they found that adolescents and teens displaying higher levels of self-control were more likely to enjoy success in their early careers. This held true among children with high initial levels of self-control at the age of 10, as well as adolescents who say their levels increased as they matured over the years.
“We found that children who had higher self-control at age 10 had less job stress and better job fit nine years later. Additionally, children whose self-control showed positive changes from age 10 to 16 (regardless of their initial self-control level at age 10) had higher job satisfaction and job autonomy nine years later,” Damian concludes. “The results suggest that improving one’s level of self-control, regardless of where you start, will help you later in life and that’s important to know. It’s an argument for striving to improve over time.”
The study is published in the Journal of Research in Personality.