Your Childhood Behavior Affects How Much Money You Make as an Adult 

Kindergarten behaviors are linked to a difference of over $73,000.

child, kindergarten

It’s no secret that your childhood affects the outcome of your adulthood. For example, kids with better self-control become more well-adjusted adults, while copy-catting kids end up more open-minded. What’s more poorly understood is how this knowledge can lead to helpful intervention — that’s where a new study on the connection between kindergarten and cash comes in.

On Wednesday, researchers announced in JAMA Psychiatry that children’s behavior in kindergarten has a significant effect on their employment earnings in adulthood. Inattentive kindergarteners, they discovered, went on to make far less than their prosocial peers — those 5- and 6-year-olds who were positive, considerate, and helpful in the classroom. The differences between the two groups created a gap of up to $73,232 over the course of a 40-year career.

The study examined three decades worth of data linked to 2,850 Canadians who were in kindergarten in 1985. Their behavioral rankings were based off ratings from their kindergarten teachers. Meanwhile, the researchers evaluated their adult earnings by examining tax returns from the same cohort when they were between the ages of 33 and 35.

kid
Prosocial male kindergarteners went on to make the most money in adulthood.

In the end, prosocial kindergarten boys were more likely to report higher adult incomes than both their boy and girl peers who were inattentive in kindergarten. However, the same level of success eluded the prosocial kindergarten girls when they grew up. The data showed that, three decades after kindergarten, these women were earning only 70 percent of what the men earned. Why exactly that happened, the researchers say, needs to be further studied — but the gender pay gap is a well documented phenomenon that exists in Canada and around the world.

Importantly, these results emerged even after the researchers controlled for I.Q. points and family adversity, and excluded children who had the highest levels of aggression. Still, the study authors note that, “Early monitoring and support for children demonstrating high inattention and for boys exhibiting high aggression-opposition and low prosocial behaviors could have long-term advantages for those individuals and society.”

girl, kindergarten
Prosocial girls, meanwhile, made less money than prosocial boys.

In other words, if parents and teachers are able to monitor certain behaviors, there’s a chance they can help steer them toward long-term benefits. Lower earnings were associated with kindergarteners who exhibited behaviors like disobeying, refusing to share, and blaming others — if teachers and other adults can help children interrupt those behaviors early on, there’s a chance those kids will find more success in the future. A simple lack of attention could mean a harder time finding financial stability.

That is, of course, unless you’re a woman. They can love to share, obey, and be kind to others, but they’re still not going to make that same level of bread.

Partial Abstract:

Importance: Specifying the association between childhood behaviors and adult earnings can inform the development of screening tools and preventive interventions to enhance social integration and economic participation.

Objective: To test the association between behaviors at age 6 years and employment earnings at age 33 to 35 years.

Conclusions and Relevance: In this large population-based sample of kindergarten children, behavioral ratings at 5-6 years were associated with employment earnings 3 decades later, independent of a person’s IQ and family background. Inattention and aggression-opposition were associated with lower annual employment earnings, and prosociality with higher earnings but only among male participants; inattention was the only behavioral predictor of income among girls. Early monitoring and support for children demonstrating high inattention and for boys exhibiting high aggression-opposition and low prosocial behaviors could have long-term advantages for those individuals and society.