Higher salary may be predicted by this behavior in kindergarten, study finds

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The way children behave in kindergarten could indicate how much money they’ll make as adults.

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A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry this week found an association between 6-year-olds’ behavior and their annual earnings three decades later. The study looked at teachers’ social behavior questionnaires for 2,850 kindergarteners in Quebec, Canada in 1980 and ’81, and followed up with the now adults’ tax returns through 2015.

Children who were more inattentive were associated with lower annual earnings between ages 33 and 35, according to the study, which adjusted for IQ and family adversity. Over the course of a career, the difference would theoretically add up to more than $73,000 for men and $45,000 for women.

Boys who were physically aggressive or oppositional — disobeying, refusing to share, blaming others or being inconsiderate and irritable — were also associated with lower earnings as adults, the study found. Girls didn’t follow the same trend.

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Displaying prosociality — stopping disputes, helping someone who has been hurt, etc. — was associated with future higher pay for boys, but not for girls.

The authors of the study said they aimed to assess children earlier than other studies had so their results could be used in targeted intervention programs. Monitoring and supporting children who exhibit inattention, aggression and opposition “could have long-term advantages for those individuals and society,” they wrote.

Sylvana M. Cote, an associate professor of social and preventative medicine at the University of Montreal, coauthored the study. She said early behaviors are more modifiable than other factors traditionally associated with earnings, like IQ and socioeconomic status.

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“If early behavioral problems are associated with lower earnings, addressing these behaviors is essential to helping children — through screenings and the development if intervention programs — as early as possible,” Cote said.