Antisocial kids more likely to end up poor, new study says

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-08-16 09:22

People who are aggressive, hyperactive and struggle in school with "antisocial behavior" are more likely to end up in persistent poverty, require welfare assistance, experience chronic unemployment and suffer premature death, a report says.

The research, conducted by the University of Michigan, finds that this kind of persistence in antisocial behavior proves to be a strong independent indicator, along with reduced cognitive skills, for individuals to become permanently unable to participate in the workforce by age 50.

Research on socioeconomic attainment traditionally focuses on cognitive ability and educational performance as key individual factors. But researchers have recently begun to understand that such non-cognitive factors as mental health, behavioral problems and personality traits play an important role in academic achievement, employment and related outcomes.

Jukka Savolainen of the UM Institute for Social Research used data from the Jyvaskyla Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, which followed 369 individuals from a city in central Finland from ages 8 to 50 and beyond.

The region is ethnically and socioeconomically homogeneous, and provides a valuable backdrop against which social scientists can study how personality traits influence people's lives.

At age 8, the study collected teacher and classmate assessments of the children's antisocial propensity: Whether they were aggressive and unable to regulate their behavior, as well as teacher-assessed school performance, and control variables such as gender and family socioeconomic status.

At 14, the study gathered teacher reports about problem behavior and school data about academic performance.

In early adulthood, the study measured the participants' socioeconomic status and deviant behavior such as criminal behavior, heavy drinking and alcoholism based on a self-reported questionnaire and government administrative records. In midlife, at 50, socioeconomic status was measured using information from government tax, health and population records.

"There's a strong antisocial pathway which starts from having a type of lack of control, which later on manifests in persistence in delinquency and rule breaking," Savolainen says.

"While others grow up and mature, some people remain leading the fast life, drinking, fighting and divorcing at an earlier rate."

The researchers didn't find a direct line of cause between childhood antisocial propensities to socioeconomic exclusion, but the antisocial tendencies set in a motion a cumulative pathway to adolescent problem behavior, adult criminal behavior and, ultimately, midlife socioeconomic exclusion.

"The real meat of this contribution (of study) is to document the noncognitive, or antisocial behavior pathway, through these life stages as an influential cause of persistent poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage," Savolainen says.

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