Dreamy, distracted, absentminded… inattentive. It’s the children who can’t keep their mind on one thing who are more likely to earn lower incomes than other children by the time they reach ages 33 to 35, according to a new study from the Université de Montréal.
The study, which included contributions from universities in the United States, Ireland, Canada, and France, used data collected over almost three decades from 2,850 Quebec-area kindergarten children starting in 1985.
When the children were kindergarteners, their teachers gave each child a behavior rating, focusing on inattention, hyperactivity, anxiety, and sympathy.
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These results were later cross-checked against their 2013-15 tax returns.
The results found that inattentive boys and girls are much more likely to report lower earnings than other children. On the other hand, more pro-social, considerate boys (those who had high marks for “sympathy”) are more likely to have higher incomes than all other groups.
“Over a 25-year career, the differences between the two groups [inattentive and pro-social] can reach $77,000,” said lead author Sylvana Côté, a public health professor at the University of Montreal, in a release. “All this has nothing to do with intelligence or IQ, because extreme cases have been excluded from the sampling.”
Early attention for the inattentive
The study’s authors concluded that unfocused children deserved extra attention and care during childhood.
“Early monitoring and support for children who exhibit high levels of inattention, and for boys who exhibit high levels of aggression… could have long-term socioeconomic advantages for those individuals and society,” said study co-author Daniel Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University.
Côté agreed, saying that behavior like inattentiveness was changeable.
“Early behaviors are modifiable, arguably more so than traditional factors associated with earnings, such as IQ and socioeconomic status, making them key targets for early intervention,” she said.
An unexpected result: a large gender pay gap
Whether inattentive or not, researchers found that 30 years after kindergarten, the women studied early only 70% of what the men earn.
Researchers say that further study is needed.
“These girls are now 35 to 40 years old,” Côté said. “They are as educated as the boys and have similar experiences. Are there any individual, family, or school factors in childhood or adolescence that would explain the income gap? That’s what we’ll try to find out.”