Middle childhood development and later adult outcomes

09/07/04

Theory and research find that the early years of life provide an important foundation for later childhood and adult development. Although much of this research has focused on early childhood, we wanted to explore the impact that middle childhood (between the ages of 5 and 10) educational and social experiences have on later development.

These years are very important. During this time, children learn to read and calculate, develop social skills to interact with other children and significant adults, and, more generally, acquire the wider cultural and social values of citizenship. Understanding how this time affects later development should help policymakers better allocate resources across childhood (and the life course) to enhance children's development and minimize their risk of negative adult outcomes.

To explore this issue, we used the 1970 British Cohort Study, which tracked 17,500 children born in 1970. Surveyors collected data through follow-up surveys at ages 5, 10, 16, 26 and 30. We focused on children between the ages of 5 and 10, evaluating their development 30 years later.

We assessed the extent of relative change in cognitive development between ages 5 and 10, considering the effect of social class, including socioeconomic status, on this change. We then looked at children who demonstrated large changes in their relative cognitive ability during the mid-childhood years, identifying the specific, or predictive, importance of cognitive development in those years.

We grouped the children into four categories based on their mid-childhood transitions:
1. High persisters: Those who scored highest on cognitive testing at age 5 and again at age 10
2. Low persisters: Those who scored lowest on cognitive testing at age 5 and again at age 10.
3. Escapers: Those who scored lowest on cognitive testing at age 5 but whose scores significantly rose by age 10.
4. Fallers: Those who scored highest on cognitive testing at age 5 but whose scores significantly dropped by age 10.

Overall, we found that family social class was very important for cognitive development between the ages of 5 and 10, with low socioeconomic status substantially increasing the risk that poor performers at age 5 persisted in their low relative development to age 10, and that high performers at age 5 lost their early relative advantage.

"Escapers," those who significantly improved between ages 5 and 10, had important long-term advantages with a reduced risk of negative adult outcomes. Those who escaped had, for most outcomes, life chances similar to those who had higher scores to begin with at age 5. Similarly losing a high academic score by 10 erodes the benefit of having had it. Similarly, losing a high academic score by age 10 eroded the benefit of ever having had such a high score.

Our findings suggest that change in the middle-childhood period, however caused, is critically important to later adult development. It is not uncommon for children to perform well in early childhood but then fall back in mid-childhood and suffer negative consequences into adult life. This suggests that policies that provide support in the mid-childhood period are important, because monitoring only at age 5 will not provide efficient targeting of policy resources.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
-- Oscar Wilde