- Published on Dec 07, 2006
- Contact Diane Swanbrow
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—New findings from long-term studies conducted in two nations over more than 30 years show that children's social behavior as early as age eight is a powerful predictor of how well they will do in middle age.
The analysis, led by psychologist Eric F. Dubow of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) and Bowling Green State University, compares data on 856 U.S. children and 369 Finnish children who were first studied in the 1960s, and then followed for decades to learn how they were doing academically and in terms of mid-life career success.
" Even when we controlled for the influence of their family's socioeconomic status and their own intelligence at the age of eight, we found that children's social behavior at age eight and into adolescence, as rated by their schoolmates, was a strong predictor of their educational attainment in young adulthood, and then of their occupational attainment when they were in their 40s," Dubow said.
The analysis, published in the current (September/October 2006) issue of Developmental Psychology, is funded by the ISR Center for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood, which is supported by the National Science Foundation.
In both studies, children's behavior was measured by asking peers how they behaved. In the U.S. study, for example, children were asked to circle the names of classmates who pushed, shoved, said mean things and started fights about nothing. They were also asked to circle the names of those they would like to have as best friends and sit next to in class.
The Finnish study used similar measures of negative and positive social behavior as identified by peers.
By comparing the results of different long-term studies in different places, researchers affiliated with the center hope to increase their understanding of children's development and to develop scientifically-based strategies to reduce problems and promote life success.
The current study is the first to be published in a peer-reviewed journal by center researchers, but already some of the implications are clear.
" These findings underscore the need for early intervention to help children who are behaving aggressively," Dubow said. " This kind of behavior early in life can set in motion a series of problems that lead to academic and then occupational failure many many years later."
Further research needs to focus on identifying protective factors that reduce the risks for children who behave aggressively at the age of eight. " On average and in the aggregate, we now know that children who behave this way will not achieve as much as others in terms of education and occupation," Dubow said. " But that's not true for every child. We need to disentangle what other factors might help some kids to get back on the right track."
In the meantime, he concludes, parents might not want to adopt the attitude that children will just grow out of aggressive and unpopular behavior. " In many cases, it's probably best to try to help children regulate their behavior," Dubow said.
Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information.
The Center for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood through Adulthood (CAPCA) brings together researchers from around the world to identify specific factors that influence children's academic achievement, social relations, mental health and eventual life success. Funded by the National Science Foundation, CAPCA applies cutting-edge analytic methods and statistical approaches to a broad range of longitudinal studies with the aim of creating effective interventions to help families, schools and community organizations help children develop into happy, productive adults. For more information, visit the CAPCA website: http://rcgd.isr.umich.edu/capca/