The Myers-Briggs types’ occupations across the millennia

When I first came across the Myers-Briggs types and their labels, I had the feeling they were characters taken out of a medieval role-playing game. On second thought they seemed like ancestral occupations which kind of makes sense as the MBTI has been used to find out people’s vocations and our evolved traits might serve us well in modern jobs or functions. E.g. an artisan might easily have had the same qualities required for an entrepreneur nowadays (open to trying out new ideas, risk-taking, etc.).

However, there was something off. While it is quite easy to imagine how the guardians and artisans made a living, it gets increasingly harder with the rationals and really hard with the idealists. Of course, some of them might have been able to make a living as poets, perhaps even as philosophers. However, one has to keep in mind that the majority of people worked in jobs somehow related to agriculture. Where had these two groups come from?

Here is what I have come up with. At the dawn of civilizations, early farmers had become rich landowners whose children inherited both their property as well as their personality traits (conscientiousness, being practical, hard-working and able to focus for a long time from dawn to dusk routine work). Early pastoralists had filled the positions as artisans and warriors, making up the middle class. Hunter-gatherers, who increasingly had difficulty making a living with their traditional way, made up the lowest class of labourers and slaves.

“Guardians” is actually quite a fitting term for those farmer types, who guarded their private property (which had not existed in early human hunter-gatherer past) and their families (their social support increasingly focused on close kin, rather than everybody in the community). An ISTJ (logistician) was a landowner who needed to be able to do all the logistics regarding farming, harvesting and trading. You can easily imagine an ESFJ as the good-natured farmer’s wife providing for the whole family (in hunter-gatherers chores like child-minding were done by both parents and distributed among all kin).

Pastoralist types probably found it harder to take up farming due to their evolved personality types which didn’t fit routine work that much, but easily found useful niches in being merchants (ESTPs), artists (ISFPs) and warriors (ISTPs).

What about those hunter-gatherer types? For millennia they didn’t have any specialised jobs, just serving wherever they were needed. They had been idealists before, when they were still hunter-gatherers (providing care for all group members or being out-group social compared to farmers and pastoralists who probably were more generous, but also more in-group social).

Being at the bottom rung of the social hierarchy hunter-gatherer types had much higher levels of natural selection than the ones above them. For farmer types at the top sexual reproduction was much more easily guaranteed because the inherited wealth could at least partially make up for genetic defects. Hunter-gatherers, on the other hand, had to evolve new traits that helped them survive and reproduce, one of them being trait “openness”, which correlates with IQ. Also, being more egalitarian as the rest had to make them more wary of their fellow humans, perhaps through higher levels of neuroticism.

After a few millennia of sustained high levels of selection, you see the same patterns everywhere in agricultural societies: elaborate structures, like the pyramids, pop up. These early architects required extraordinary levels of imagination and vision. Farmer types were hard workers, but not visionaries. Hunter-gatherers might have been visionaries, but probably lacked the planning capabilities of farmer types. Mixed types (NJs) probably had arisen. These architects had personality types (INTJs) that hadn’t existed before.

We also see prophets (INFJs/e.g. Jesus), warning people from adverse future consequences of being too materialistic. We see poets (INFPs/e.g. Homer) not just entertaining people, but also telling them stories with a moral. We see debaters (ENTPs, e.g. Sokrates) talking about existential problems and what constitutes a good life and philosophers (INTPs, e.g. Aristotle) thinking hard why the world is the way it is when there are so many things in life that don’t seem right to a hunter-gatherer mind.

This brief story should also explain the following pattern of MBTI types and giftedness:

The rest, as they say, is history.

Originally published at on March 16, 2020.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store