Career success could be predicted as early as kindergarten, according to a 20-year study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University tracked more than 700 children from across the US between kindergarten and age 25 and found a significant correlation between their social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults two decades later.
In 1991, teachers assessed how the kindergartners interacted with each other socially using a range of criteria like whether they cooperate with their peers without prompting, if they’re helpful to others, whether they’re good at understanding feelings, and if they can resolve problems on their own.
Researchers then kept track of whether the students went on to graduate high school on time, get a college degree, and find and keep a full-time job by 25. They also monitored the participants’ involvement with crime, drug abuse, public assistance, and mental health issues.
The results showed that socially competent children were fare more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by 25 as those with limited social skills. Those with limited social skills also had a higher chance of getting arrested, binge drinking, and applying for public housing.
“This study shows that helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future,” said Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the research, in a release. “From an early age, these skills can determine whether a child goes to college or prison, and whether they end up employed or addicted.”
The good news, according to Damon Jones, lead author of the study, is that intervention at a young age can help improve social and emotional skills.
“This research by itself doesn’t prove that higher social competence can lead to better outcomes later on,” he said in a release. “But when combined with other research, it is clear that helping children develop these skills increases their chances of success in school, work, and life.”
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