Kids not paying attention in class? How much it could cost them

Child not paying attention in class
Achtung, baby. Photo credit: Getty

Kids who don't pay attention and show aggressive behaviour are more likely to end up poor as adults, new research has found.

While that mightn't sound surprising, this might: the signs are there in kids as young as six years old.

Researchers in Canada looked at data collected during a longitudinal study tracking thousands of people through their lifetimes. This particular bunch were born in the early 1980s and are now in the mid- to late-30s.

The researchers looked at what teachers had to say about their behaviour in class when they were six, and compared that to their present-day earnings.

After controlling for intelligence (as measured by IQ) and family adversity growing up, the outcome was clear: "Inattention is among the most important early childhood behaviours associated with lower earnings in adulthood," the researchers said.

"Teacher ratings of inattention at age six years seemed to be associated with lower earnings for both sexes."

How much? About NZ$116,000 over a lifetime, thousands of dollars every year.

child naughty in class
The researchers said it shows the importance of helping out struggling children as early as possible. Photo credit: Getty

"Children who fight with their peers, are careless in their work, do not attend to instructions, and do not complete assignments are likely to underperform in school and subsequently in the workplace as adults."

There was a second factor for boys - aggression - though it only had half the negative impact of inattention. Aggression levels had no effect on girls' income.

"We expected to find differences between boys and girls and we did find some important ones," said lead author Sylvana Côté of the University of Montreal.

"We expected hyperactivity to be the most important variable, but in fact it turned out to be less important than simple lack of attention."

On the other hand, prosocial behaviour from boys - helping people, stopping fights - at age six was linked to increased incomes as adults, but had no effect for girls.

The researchers said it shows the importance of helping out struggling children as early as possible.

"By age 10 years, the prospects for successful preventive intervention are diminishing," the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, reads.