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Study shows that daydreaming in kindergarten can cost you

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- We all knew a few spacey kids in kindergarten who just couldn't get their acts together. Their desks were a mess, they never knew what they were supposed to be doing, and they'd lose their heads if they weren't attached.

You won't be shocked to learn that they probably grew up to make less money than the class overachievers.

But would you believe that the dreamy kids might be doing worse in life than the class cut-up who got sent to the principal's office for pushing on the playground, goading classmates or talking back to the teacher?

That's one potential takeaway from a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. The study compared kindergarten teachers' assessments of low-income boys' inattention, hyperactivity and aggression with their employment earnings at ages 35 to 36, based on their tax returns.

Researchers found that the boys who made the most money in their mid-30s were those who acted with empathy in kindergarten -- helping, sharing, cooperating, inviting bystanders to join in activities and being a peacemaker in disputes.

But those who fared the worst were not the boys who disobeyed the teacher and bullied, fought, kicked, bit or otherwise intimidated their classmates.

 

It was the dreamy, inattentive boys who, the researchers estimated, could earn about $3,000 more a year -- or nearly $71,000 over the course of a 40-year career -- if they were just able to stay focused, concentrate on a task for a sustained period of time and persist through difficulties.

Research on how students succeed has long pointed to executive-functioning skills -- self-regulation, planning, organization -- as the basis for academic and eventual economic success.

But this is the first study, according to its authors, to make an explicit connection between so-called prosocial behaviors -- like being a helper and a peacemaker -- and higher lifetime earnings.

And, counterintuitively, it also shows in dollars and cents that the anti-social behaviors that classroom teachers find most alarming -- hyperactivity, disobeying, talking back and fighting -- aren't the actions likeliest to impact long-term success.

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