Love & Money: Boys who lack attention in kindergarten meet the same financial fate as adults

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Your son’s behavior may have lasting effects on his future financial success.

Young boys who display disruptive behavior and have trouble paying attention in kindergarten earn an average of $1,295 less per year in their mid-30s than those who display more positive social behavior, a study published by the Journal of American Medicine on Monday found.

Hyperactivity, opposition, and aggression were not associated with earnings, but inattention was associated with lower earnings later on, it found. The IQ of the child and family adversity were adjusted for in the analysis.

However, the study showed that positive behavior at this age — like helping, sharing and cooperating — were associated with an increase in annual earnings of about $400 for the same time period among the same group.

Researchers examined the behavior of nearly 1,000 boys from low-socioeconomic neighborhoods in Montreal between the ages of 5 and 6 years old in April 1984 and followed up 30 years later in December 2015.

Researchers examined the behavior of nearly 1,000 boys from low-socioeconomic neighborhoods in Montreal between the ages of 5 and 6 years old in April 1984 and followed up 30 years later in December 2015.

“Childhood disruptive behaviors are among the most prevalent and costly mental-health problems in industrialized countries and are associated with significant negative long-term outcomes for individuals and society,” the study said.

With the average age of retirement in the U.S. at 66, this could mean more than $40,000 lost from the age of 36 onward for those who fall in the category of inattention and hyperactivity. Over a 40-year career, it would amount to more than $70,000.

There’s a lot at risk for those who earn less than their potential. “Low earnings can harm individual and family well-being for many years and are associated with increased risk of financial dependence, stress, psychopathology, and early mortality,” the researchers added.

Disruptive behavior in childhood has an impact in adulthood

It has long been established that disruptive behaviors are tied to negative outcomes in the long term, but this study showed that hyperactivity has an even stronger correlation to lower earnings than lower IQ or family adversity, the researchers said.

That, they said, came as a surprise. “These other factors didn’t correlate with earnings,” Chuck Kalish, the director for science at the Society for Research in Child Development said. “School performance is very predictive. Most of the regulatory skills that make you successful in school also make you successful in work.”

The results’ publication comes as diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is on the rise. The number of children diagnosed with ADHD increased by 42% between 2003 (7.8%) and 2011 (11.0%). Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Kids who grow up in over-stimulating or stressful environments may have trouble focusing in class. Children who are under-stimulated can also have trouble focusing at school.

Kalish said inattentive behavior displayed by kids is often caused by two major factors: Over-stimulation and under-stimulation. Kids who grow up in over-stimulating or stressful environments may have trouble focusing in class, he said. Stressors for children in poverty can include violence at home, anxiety about parents’ well-being, and malnutrition.

On the other side of the spectrum, children who are under-stimulated can also have trouble focusing at school, Kalish noted, as they find it more difficult to focus on tasks they find boring.

While many would be quick to blame technology and social media for these effects, the study was conducted long before the invention of iPads AAPL, -0.36% Facebook FB, -1.08%  and Snapchat SNAP, -2.09% Still, Kalish said, even factors like educational television have changed the way different generations learn and how they focus in school.

“We college professors often complain about something called ‘the Sesame Street effect,’” he said. “Educational television made learning seem fun, and students today find it difficult to sit through a lecture because they are used to information coming in short digestible bites.”

In addition to the effects on earnings, ADHD and other attention problems can have negative effects on a child’s health and life expectancy, a separate study released at the 2018 International Conference on ADHD found.

That study was published by Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children. With therapy and medication, it said that many of these children can change those outcomes over their childhood.

“It is as much about the environment and the child’s experience as it is about the child’s brain or personality,” Kalish said.

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