Believe it or not, how your kid acts in kindergarten might impact his earning potential years later, a new study suggests.
Canadian researchers found that boys and girls who were identified by their kindergarten teachers as inattentive earned nearly $1,300 less a year than their more focused peers.
Additionally, boys identified as more aggressive also earned less -- about $700 annually.
On the other hand, positive traits were also rewarded in boys. Kindergarten boys who showed more "prosocial" skills earned almost $500 more each year. Prosocial means helping others, being considerate and willing to be part of a team for projects, according to the researchers.
"The strongest association we found was with inattention in boys and girls. We were surprised by that. We expected aggression to create more problems," said study author Sylvana Cote, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal.
She said that youngsters identified as inattentive are distracted and have difficulty focusing. They also have trouble planning the next step in their schoolwork. Cote said previous studies have found that inattention is a strong risk factor for not graduating from high school.
"In adulthood, inattentive individuals have more difficulty planning and being careful with money issues. And getting a good job requires all kinds of planning," she explained.
The study included 2,850 children born in 1980 or 1981 in Quebec. In kindergarten, their teachers were asked to assess the behavior of the children. Cote said that attention deficit disorder was a diagnosis at the time, but it wasn't talked about as much. The teachers in this study looked for certain behaviors such as trouble paying attention, and then rated them as occurring never, sometimes or often.
The children were then followed over three decades. The study team controlled the data for things such as intelligence and family life.
Using government tax returns, the researchers found that men in the study earned an average of $33,300 and women made $19,400. But those with behavioral problems back when they were 6 years old earned less.
The more a child's behavior differed from his or her peers, the more likely it was that their earnings would be affected, the study found.
The researchers estimated the differences in earnings linked to specific behaviors could be as high as $77,000 over a 25-year career.
Although not a focus of the study, the researchers noted that women made only about 70% as much as the men in this group of people, despite similar education and experiences. Cote said this finding is worth further study.
The research only found an association, and did not prove cause and effect, so Cote cautioned that parents shouldn't think their inattentive child is doomed to a life of poverty. For most children, any impact on their earnings would be small. Plus, the findings represent a large group of children, and don't mean that any one child will have trouble.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the groups. Inattentive kids may be happier if they're less competitive. Parents need to appreciate the child they have," Cote suggested.
But she also said that there are behavioral interventions that can help a child become more attentive and focused.
"There are psychosocial interventions. Children learn to focus on one thing at a time. They can develop good habits and strategies to remember, like having a checklist to help them remember what they need to put in their schoolbag. Teachers can help exclude distractions from the classroom. There are also interventions on learning mindfulness," she said.
And, for kids who still have trouble despite psychosocial interventions, Cote said such a child needs a "rigorous evaluation," preferably by a neuropsychologist to determine the extent of the inattention.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said, "The findings from this study are in many ways consistent with what other studies have found."
He said it's not surprising "that traits evident at age 6 are somewhat predictive of financial earnings 30 years later."
But Adesman added that children identified with attention problems today have more academic support, educational opportunities and medical treatments available to them than did the youngsters in the study. So, the study results might not be the same for today's kids.
The findings were published June 19 in JAMA Psychiatry.