Are grittier individuals more successful? | By Teri Richter | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Are grittier individuals more successful? | By Teri Richter

Are grittier individuals more successful? | By Teri Richter

Origins and definition of Grit

The concept of grit was popularised recently by Angela Lee Duckworth and is defined as the perseverance and passion for long-term goals.  Duckworth and Peterson (2007: p. 1087 – 1088[1]) is characterised by:

  • “Strenuously working towards challenges
  • Maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress.”

Duckworth’s study of grit was borne out of an interest to answer the fundamental question: “Why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence?” Duckworth and Yeager (2015[2]) discuss the importance of differentiating between intelligence or general mental ability and factors attributed to social and emotional learning [SEL] competencies, a phrase that highlights the relevance of emotions and social relationships to any complete view of child development (Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissberg, & Gullotta, 2015; Elias, 1997; Weissberg & Cascarino, 2013) or personality traits. Measurement and research on the latter being much less reliably and precisely tested than intelligence.


Duckworth and Peterson’s (2007) research suggests that grit is one of the personal qualities that is shared by most prominent leaders. The concept of grit is based on prior research of Galton (1892: p. 32) which proposed that ability alone was not the enough to bring about success, however that “ability combined with zeal and with capacity for hard labour”. Similarly, Cox’s (1926: p. 218) research concluded that evidence of “persistence of motive and effort, confidence in their abilities and great strength or force of character” early on influenced subsequent achievement.

Application of Grit at the Foundation

The following table is a representation of Duckworth’s synthesis of the key components of Grit and how we could incorporate certain aspects from the Grit literature into the Foundation’s work[3]:

Core component of Grit Definition Linking to the Foundation
1. Interest and passion which motivates that you are more likely to keep going and ‘stick-with-it’ if you love what you do This in turn would encourage us to aid beneficiaries in career guidance and finding their passion
2. Deliberate practice Which refers to practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort This approach could be incorporated into our curriculum in developing this skill in beneficiaries to pursue their passions and deal with challenges in academics.
3. Purpose which is about connecting your work or hobby to people beyond yourself and the value your work has This links with some of our ideas around responsible entrepreneurship. It could in turn be addressed through our programme curriculum
4. Hope which refers to optimism and the belief that there is something you can do to persevere, (which could also connect to locus of control??) There are links made between hope and optimism – this in turn could be measured through psychometrics and developed through personal development

Critiques of Grit

When considering the implementation of Grit measurement with Foundation beneficiaries, it is interesting to consider the findings of the King’s College Twin study published by Rimfeld, Kovas, Dale and Plomin in 2016[4]. The study used the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) sample, which is a longitudinal study which began by recruiting 16 000 twin pairs across England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 and posited as a gold standard research design. The study has retained over 10 000 twin pairs. The King’s College study included 4 642 TEDS participants, 2 321 twin pairs. It collected and considered data on Grit score, Big Five personality factors and General Certificate of Secondary Education scores were obtained from participants. The study used phenotypic and twin analysis to compared means and variance for boys and girls and for MZ and DZ twins as well as to estimate the relative contribution of additive genetic (A), shared environmental (C) and non-shared environmental (E) components of variance.
The study’s findings showed that:

  • Personality factors explain around 6% of the variance in academic achievement at the end of compulsory education at age 16.
  • At this stage of education Grit adds only 0.5% to the prediction of GCSE variance after accounting for the association between achievement and Big Five personality factors.
  • Big Five personality traits have been well studied and research has consistently shown that these traits explain a small but significant proportion of the variance in educational achievement (Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003; Krapohl et al., 2014; Laidra et al., 2007; Luciano et al., 2006; Noftle & Robins, 2007; Poropat, 2009).
  • Grit consistency of interest does not significantly predict school achievement. One possibility is that consistency of interest has both positive and negative effects on scholastic achievement.

Alternative personality factors that influence success

The King’s College study suggests that Grit adds little to the prediction of academic achievement when other personality factors are controlled. This does not exclude the possibility that other cognitive or non-cognitive predictors are important correlates of academic success.

  • The following non-cognitive factors have shown to influence academic success:
    • Self-efficacy has consistently been shown to be associated with school achievement
    • Curiosity, specifically intellectual engagement, has also been shown to be a significant predictor of school achievement—a hungry mind could be the driving force for effort and perseverance (von Stumm, Hell, & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2011).
    • Self-control—the capacity to regulate behaviour and focus in the presence of temptation (Duckworth & Gross, 2014; Duckworth, Quinn, & Tsukayama, 2012; Duckworth, Tsukayama, & Kirby, 2013; Moffitt et al., 2011; Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004).

The King’s College study suggests that Grit does not significantly predict academic success. Moreover, it suggests the concept of Grit is not as powerful as other non-cognitive personality traits. The findings do not suggest that teaching children to be grittier cannot be done or indeed that it is not beneficial. Trying to increase Grit or perseverance could have long-term benefits for children but more research is warranted into intervention and training programmes before concluding that such training increases educational achievement and life outcomes.


Dubner, S.J., 2016. How to get more grit in your life. Accessed at

Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., and Kelly, D.R., 2007. Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Accessed at

Duckworth, A.L., and Yeager, D.S., 2015. Measurement matters: Assessing personal qualities other than cognitive ability for educational purposes. Accessed at

Rimfeld, K., Kovas, Y., Dale, P., and Plomin, R., 2016. True grit and genetics: Predicting academic achievement from personality. Accessed at

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