Pay Attention: Easily-Distracted Kindergarteners Earn Less In Adulthood, Study Finds

MONTREAL — Young children around the ages of five or six are usually powder kegs of energy, excitedly interacting with anything and everything they can get their hands on. Most of the time, the quirks of childhood are simply written off as part of the process of growing up, but can a young child’s behavior accurately predict their income potential later in life? A new study shows that one’s success can be tied, with some level of accuracy, to their classroom performance as early as kindergarten.

Some of the study’s findings were reasonably predictable, such as the conclusion that children who struggle to stay focused will likely report lower earnings later in life. While other findings, including a connection between consideration for others and higher salaries later in life among boys, were more surprising.

The study, conducted internationally across universities in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and France, utilized data spanning nearly three decades collected from 2,850 Quebec-area kindergarten-aged children in 1985. While these children were in kindergarten, their teachers filled out behavioral ratings for each child, which were then cross referenced against their 2013-2015 tax returns.

Researchers asked kindergarten teachers to focus on six traits while filling out the questionnaires; inattention (a tendency to become easily distracted), hyperactivity (inability to sit still), opposition (inability to follow instructions), anxiety (tendency to worry), and pro-sociality (showing sympathy and consideration for others).

The results show that five- to six-year-old inattentive boys and girls are more likely to report lower income than other children. Additionally, more considerate boys are much more likely to report higher earnings than all the others.

“Over a 25-year career, the differences between the two groups can reach $77,000,” comments lead author Sylvana Côté, a public health professor at the University of Montreal, in a media release. “And all this has nothing to do with intelligence or IQ because extreme cases have been excluded from the sampling,”

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It is also worth noting that boys displaying a tendency for aggressive behavior displayed even lower annual earnings than inattentive children once they reached their 30s. In general, the results also displayed a clear discrepancy in income between the two genders, with females earning only 70% of what their male counterparts earn.

The results of the study surprised researchers, who say they were expecting hyperactivity to be the most noticeable variable, not attentiveness or consideration. While the study’s authors admit that they did not account for earnings through the informal economy or the accumulation of debt, they believe their findings indicate that inattentive and inconsiderate children could greatly benefit later on in life from increased care and attention during childhood.

“All this research is ultimately aimed at improving interventions for young people in order to make them as optimal as possible,” Côté states in a release for the study.

The study is published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Originally from Long Island, John has been writing professionally for over 7 years. When he isn’t writing about the latest scientific studies, you can find him working on his first horror novel. John splits his time between the United States and Kraków, Poland.