Hyperactive kindergarten boys may earn less later

Disruptive behavioral problems in early life are an important early predictor of lower employment earnings in adulthood.
boy does handstand against red wall

Boys from low-income backgrounds who are hyperactive and inattentive in kindergarten earn less money as long as 30 years later, a new study shows.

Disruptive behaviors in childhood, among the most prevalent and costly mental health problems in industrialized countries, link to significant negative long-term outcomes for individuals and society, researchers say.

Recent evidence suggests that disruptive behavioral problems in the first years of life are an important early predictor of lower employment earnings in adulthood.

The new longitudinal study examined boys from low-income backgrounds to see which behaviors in kindergarten affect earnings in adulthood. The findings show that inattention links to lower earnings and prosocial behavior with higher earnings.

5 behaviors

“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,” says Daniel Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy and coauthor of the paper in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study looked at 920 boys who were 6 years old and lived in low-income neighborhoods in Montreal, Canada, beginning in 1984 and continuing through 2015. Kindergarten teachers rated the boys on five behaviors typically assessed at that age: inattention, hyperactivity, physical aggression, opposition, and prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is social behavior that benefits others, like helping, cooperating, and sharing.

The findings show that 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.

On the other hand, the findings associated prosocial behavior, such as trying to stop quarrels or inviting someone to join a game, with higher earnings.

Both findings took into account children’s IQ (assessed at age 13) and their families’ adversity (parents’ educational level and occupational status). Researchers used government tax return data to measure earnings.

Early intervention

The study also found that hyperactivity, aggression, and opposition were not significantly associated with changes in later earnings.

Because the research was observational in nature, researchers did not assess causality. In addition, the study did not examine earnings obtained informally that subjects probably did not report to Canadian tax authorities.

“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,” says coauthor Sylvana Cote of the University of Montreal and the University of Bordeaux.

Additional researchers are from University College Dublin, Ste-Justine Hospital Research Center, L’Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Économiques, Centre pour la Recherche Économique et ses Applications, Statistics Canada, and Université de Bordeaux.

Quebec social and health research funds, the Idex Fund from the University of Bordeaux, the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Program under a European Research Council Consolidator Grant, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Molson Foundation, the National Consortium 10 on Violence, and Statistics Canada funded the work.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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