A kindergartner’s effectiveness in handling social and emotional experiences is a strong predictor of success in adulthood, according to a new study from the American Journal of Public Health. Children who in kindergarten are able to manage responsibilities and work well with others are more likely to graduate from high school on time and hold good jobs and stay out of trouble as adults.
Researchers Damon E. Jones and Mark Greenberg of the Bennett Pierce Prevention Center at Pennsylvania State University and Max Crowley of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University tracked nearly 800 children in Seattle, Nashville, rural Pennsylvania and Durham in North Carolina from kindergarten into young adulthood. At the beginning of the study in 1991, kindergarten teachers were required to rate their students on a nine-element social competency scale that assessed how well the child handled interactions with other children and adults. Each child then received a composite score on a scale of 0 to 5. Nineteen years later, when the participants were in their mid-20s, the researchers assessed how each participant had turned out.
As children’s social competency ratings in kindergarten increased, so did the likelihood that they achieved favorable outcomes as adults. For every one-point gain in their composite score on social skills and behavior, the children were twice as likely to earn a college degree, 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job.
Conversely, for every one-point decrease in their ratings, children were 67 percent more likely to have been arrested by adulthood and 82 percent more likely to be on a waiting list for public housing. Indeed, measures of social competence were such strong predictors of future success that they more accurately forecast criminal activity in adulthood than did the individual’s childhood aggression score.
The research suggests that early childhood education programs should focus much more on developing strong social and emotional skills.