A new study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, suggests that childhood behaviors in kindergarten may be related to annual earnings at ages 33 to 35 years.
The international team of researchers found that boys and girls who were inattentive at age 6 had lower earnings in their 30s after taking into consideration their IQ and family adversity.
They also found that boys who were physically aggressive or oppositional (who refused to share materials or blamed others) had lower annual earnings in their 30s, while boys who were prosocial (who shared or helped) had higher later earnings.
The study was conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Montreal, University College Dublin, the French Economic Observatory (OFCE), the Center for Economic Research and Applications, Statistics Canada, and the University of Bordeaux in France.
“Our study suggests that kindergarten teachers can identify behaviors associated with lower earnings three decades later,” said co-author Dr. Daniel Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.
“Early monitoring and support for children who exhibit high levels of inattention, and for boys who exhibit high levels of aggression and opposition and low levels of prosocial behavior could have long-term socioeconomic advantages for those individuals and society.”
The study used data from 2,850 children in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children, a population-based sample of predominantly white boys and girls born in 1980 or 1981 in Quebec, Canada, who were followed from January 1, 1985, to December 31, 2015.
The data included behavioral ratings by kindergarten teachers when the children were 5 or 6 years old, as well as 2013 to 2015 government tax returns when the participants were 33 to 35 years old.
Kindergarten behaviors the researchers looked at were:
- inattention (lacking concentration, being easily distracted);
- hyperactivity (feeling fidgety, moving constantly);
- physical aggression (fighting, bullying, kicking);
- opposition (disobeying, blaming others, being irritable);
- anxiety (worrying about many things, crying easily), and;
- prosociality (helping someone who has been hurt, showing sympathy).
They then sought to associate these with later reported annual earnings.
The study addressed the limitations of previous research by assessing children earlier, including specific behaviors within a single model, so the results could be incorporated more easily into targeted intervention programs. They also relied on reports from teachers instead of self-reports by children and tax records of income instead of adults’ self-reported earnings.
“Early behaviors are modifiable, arguably more so than traditional factors associated with earnings, such as IQ and socioeconomic status, making them key targets for early intervention,” said co-author Dr. Sylvana M. Côté, associate professor of social and preventive medicine at the University of Montreal.
“If early behavioral problems are associated with lower earnings, addressing these behaviors is essential to helping children —through screenings and the development of intervention programs — as early as possible.”
The study’s authors acknowledged that they did not account for earnings through the informal economy or for unaccounted accumulation of debt. They also noted that because they looked at associations, the study did not reach conclusions about causality.
Source: Carnegie Mellon University