Drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be incredibly controversial. There are concerns that they’re over-prescribed, and there can be significant potential for abuse by people, particularly college age students, who don’t have a prescription.
However, it’s important to remember how difficult it is to live, learn, and succeed with the disorder, also known as ADHD, especially when it goes untreated.
A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research by Jason Fletcher at Yale titled “The Effects Of Childhood ADHD On Adult labour Market Outcomes” takes a detailed look at how the condition affects a person’s long run success, and provides “the first evidence of links between childhood ADHD symptoms and adult labour market outcomes.”
From the abstract:
This paper uses a longitudinal national sample, including sibling pairs, to show important labour market outcome consequences of ADHD. The employment reduction is between 10-14 percentage points, the earnings reduction is approximately 33%, and the increase in social assistance is 15 points, which are larger than many estimates of the black-white earnings gap and the gender earnings gap. A small share of the link is explained by education attainments and co-morbid health conditions and behaviours. The results also show important differences in labour market consequences by family background and age of onset. These findings, along with similar research showing that ADHD is linked with poor education outcomes and adult crime, suggest that treating childhood ADHD can substantially increase the acquisition of human capital.
According to the paper, estimates indicate that somewhere between 2 and 10 per cent of school age children have the condition, not all of whom are diagnosed or being treated. The employment reduction is primarily concentrated in disadvantaged families, who might have more difficulty getting the condition diagnosed or treated at an early age.
The sample used in the study was from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which followed a group of students from grades 7-12 starting in 1994 and 1995, then interviewed them one year later, six years later, and 13 years later.
At the final wave of questioning, the researchers asked: “Has a doctor, or nurse, or other health care provider ever told you that you have or had attention problems or ADD or ADHD” then “How old were you when the doctor, nurse, or other health practitioner first told you.” This is the data Fletcher analysed with their employment data.
The findings of this study are particularly robust because it controls for health and education factors. It also looks at differences between sibling pairs that do and don’t have the condition, and found that there was still a 12-14 percentage point reduction in employment for the sibling that had been diagnosed with ADHD.
Since the sample started in the 90s, there were probably significantly lower rates of treatment than we have today, which may partially explain the size of the effect. Still, the paper makes a strong case that early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve what students get out of their education, and help with future job prospects.
Find the paper here.
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