Five-year-old and six-year-old children, who are inattentive in kindergarten, will earn less than other children when they reach 33 to 35 years of age, a new study by an international team of researchers has found.
"For the top 15% most inattentive, we estimate a $3077 per year lower income,” Université de Montréal (UdeM) public-health professor and lead author of the study Sylvana Côté told MEA Worldwide (MEAWW).
The findings, published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, say that on the other hand, the most "pro-social" boys - those who help others, are considerate and willing to participate in educational projects - are overwhelmingly headed for careers that pay more than the average.
“Over a 25-year career, the differences between these two groups can reach $77,000," adds Côté.
An unexpected finding is that in general, three decades after kindergarten, women earn only 70% of what men earn. The researchers said more analysis is needed to understand and explain this income gap.
"Researchers have examined what childhood behavior can tell us about how individuals will do economically later in life. But the methods they used to reach an answer were limited, which tempered the studies' findings. Our new longitudinal research addressed these limitations and examined the association between six prevalent childhood behaviors in kindergarten and annual earnings at ages 33 to 35 years. We found that individuals who were inattentive at age 6 had lower earnings in their 30s after taking into consideration their IQ and family adversity. For males only, individuals who were physically aggressive or oppositional (for example, who refused to share materials or blamed others) had lower annual earnings in their 30s. And males who were pro-social (for example, those who shared or helped) had higher later earnings," Côté told MEAWW.
Spanning nearly three decades, the study used data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children, a population-based sample of boys and girls, who were born in 1980 or 1981 in Quebec, Canada, and followed up from January 1, 1985, to December 31, 2015.
The data included behavioral ratings by kindergarten teachers when the children were aged 5 or 6 years and 2013 to 2015 government tax returns of those same participants at age 33 to 35 years. The study included 2,850 participants, and data were analyzed from September 2017 to December 2018.
"Kindergarten teachers are able to identify children at high risk of having long term behavior and academic problems. These children need intensive support as soon as they are identified," Côté told MEAWW.
The study tested the associations between 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) when the children were in kindergarten and later reported annual earnings.
Researchers found that boys and girls who were inattentive in kindergarten had lower earnings in their 30s.
"Inattention was the behavior most strongly associated with earnings. Inattention is correlated with school performance and academic attainment, which is likely why it is related to earnings," said Côté.
They also found that boys who were aggressive or oppositional at age 6 had lower earnings. "The associations between externalizing behavior and later earnings become plausible when one thinks about the life pathways for these children. Children exhibiting aggressive and oppositional behavior are more likely to be rejected by their peers, to be disruptive in class, and not to follow adult instructions. Children with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) have difficulty focussing and completing an assignment, tend to be careless in their school work, and also to not attend to instructions. Thus, they are likely to underperform in school and to have lower levels of academic achievement and attainment. These characteristics may continue in adult life and can be reflected in an inability to focus at work and to complete assignments carefully, leading to difficulties in the workplace," Côté told MEAWW.
She added, "Conversely, children who exhibit pro-social behaviors typically have better peer relations, fewer adolescent behavioral problems, and higher educational attainment, which should increase their social and economic capital and enhance employment earnings."
The researchers recommend early monitoring and support for children who exhibit high levels of inattention, and for boys who show high levels of aggression and opposition. "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. 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," said Côté.