Focus in kindergarten may predict future earnings

(Credit: Getty Images)

The way a child acts in kindergarten may predict how much money they earn as an adult.

For a new longitudinal study, researchers looked at the link between six prevalent childhood behaviors in kindergarten and annual earnings at ages 33 to 35 years.

Both boys and girls who showed inattentive behavior at age 6 earned less in their 30s after taking into consideration their IQ and family adversity, the study finds.

Further, boys who were physically aggressive or oppositional (for example, who refused to share materials or blamed others) also had lower annual earnings in their 30s. Boys who were prosocial (those who shared or helped) had higher later earnings.

“Our study suggests that kindergarten teachers can identify behaviors associated with lower earnings three decades later,” 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 study, which appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

“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.”

Kindergarten behavior and adult earnings

Researchers used data from 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, followed from January 1, 1985 to December 31, 2015.

In total, the study assessed 2,850 children. The data included behavioral ratings from 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.

Researchers wanted to test the associations among inattention (lacking concentration, being easily distracted), hyperactivity (feeling fidgety, moving constantly), physical aggression (fighting, bullying, kicking), opposition (disobeying, blaming others, irritability), anxiety (worrying about many things, crying easily), and prosociality (helping someone who has been hurt, showing sympathy) when the children were in kindergarten and later reported annual earnings to Canadian tax authorities.

To address the limitations of prior research, the new study assessed children earlier, including specific behaviors within a single model, so researchers could incorporate the results more easily into targeted intervention programs. The study also relied on tax records of income instead of adults’ self-reported earnings.

Early intervention

“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,” says coauthor Sylvana M. Côté, associate professor of social and preventative 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 did not account for earnings through the informal economy or for unaccounted accumulation of debt. They also note that because they looked at associations, the study did not reach conclusions about causality.

Funding came from the Quebec Conseil Québécois pour la Recherche Sociale and the Formation de Chercheurs et l’Aide à la Recherche funding agencies, the National Health Research and Development Program, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funding agencies in Canada, the Molson Foundation, the US National Consortium on Violence and Statistics Canada.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University