Inattention and low levels of prosocial behaviors in kindergarten may be tied to reduced earnings in adulthood, according to a new study of 6-year-old boys from low-income backgrounds. Hyperactivity, aggression and opposition were not significantly associated with changes in later earnings.
The findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“Identifying early childhood behavioral problems associated with economic success or failure is essential for developing targeted interventions that enhance economic prosperity through improved educational attainment and social integration,” said coauthor Daniel Nagin, Ph.D., professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College in Pennsylvania.
The research involved 920 boys who were 6 years old and living in low-income neighborhoods in Montreal, Canada, beginning in 1984 and continuing through 2015. The boys’ kindergarten teachers rated them on five behaviors: inattention, hyperactivity, physical aggression, opposition and prosocial behavior.
The findings show that the teachers’ ratings of boys’ inattention — characterized as poor concentration, distractibility, having one’s head in the clouds, and lacking persistence — were associated with lower earnings when the students were 35 to 36 years old. Hyperactivity, aggression, and opposition were not significantly associated with changes in later income.
Prosocial behavior (sharing, helping and cooperating) was associated with higher earnings. Examples of prosocial behavior included trying to stop quarrels, inviting bystanders to join in a game, and trying to help someone who has been hurt.
Both findings took into account children’s IQ (assessed at age 13) and their families’ adversity (parents’ educational level and occupational status). Earnings were measured by government tax return data.
Because the research was observational in nature, causality was not assessed. In addition, the study did not examine earnings obtained informally that were likely not reported to Canadian tax authorities. And because the study focused on boys in low-income neighborhoods, its generalizability to other genders or individuals of different socioeconomic status is limited.
“Monitoring inattention and low levels of prosocial behavior should begin in kindergarten so at-risk boys can be identified early and targeted with intervention and support,” said coauthor Sylvana Cote, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal, Canada, and the University of Bordeaux in France.
The study was conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, the University of Montreal, University College Dublin, Ste-Justine Hospital Research Center in Montreal, OFCE (French Observatory of Economic Conditions), Center for Economic Research and Applications (France), Statistics Canada, and University of Bordeaux.
Source: Carnegie Mellon University