Social skills in kindergarten linked to positive outcomes in adulthood

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports a link between children’s social skills in kindergarten (which most children in the US attend when they are age 5/6) and their well-being in early adulthood.

Data for the study came from the longitudinal Fast Track project, an intervention designed to reduce aggression in children identified as high risk for long-term behavioural problems and conduct disorders. As part of Fast Track, nearly 800 children were evaluated by their teachers on a range of social behaviours, such as whether they resolve peer problems, listen to others, and share materials. Each child received a composite score representing his or her overall level of positive social skills/behaviour on a scale from 0 (“not at all”) to 4 (“very well”). Using a variety of data sources, researchers monitored these children and their life events, both positive (eg, obtaining a high school diploma) and negative (eg, getting a criminal record), until they turned 25.

Findings showed that for every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:

  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:

  • 64% higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood; and
  • 52% higher rate of recent binge drinking and 82% higher rate of recent marijuana use.

In conclusion, the authors say, “Our results suggest that perceived early social competence at least serves as a marker for important long-term outcomes and at most is instrumental in influencing other developmental factors that collectively affect the life course. Evaluating such characteristics in children could be important in planning interventions and curricula to improve these social competencies.”

Source: Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness (2015), American Journal of Public Health.

Soft skills are hard to find

Studies have shown that “soft skills,” or the non-academic attributes a person brings to the workplace, are an important complement to technical and academic career preparation, and just as important in predicting income, employment status, and other career-related factors. There is a worldwide soft-skills gap that employers note prevents otherwise qualified candidates from being hired, although there is no consensus as to which skills are the most important.

Child Trends has released a review of more than 380 resources, including empirical studies and the results of international projects, describing a set of soft skills that emerged as the most critical for the future workplace success of young people aged 15-29. Of the 380 studies reviewed, 172 met the inclusion criteria of being published in the last 20 years, being non-sector specific, and relating a soft skill to one of four workforce outcomes: employment, performance/promotion, income, and entrepreneurial success.

The soft skills deemed as most critical from the review of research were:

  • Social skills
  • Communication skills
  • Higher-order thinking, such as solving problems, making decisions, and thinking critically
  • Self-control
  • Positive self-concept

The authors discuss the implications of these findings with regard to workforce-development and skill-training programmes for young people.

Source: Workforce Connections: Key “Soft Skills” That Foster Youth Workforce Success (2015), Child Trends.

40 years of bullying research

A special school bullying and victimization issue of American Psychologist includes six papers.

The introduction article “Four Decades of Research on School Bullying” takes the reader through section summaries on “Linking Peer Victimization to Adjustment in Childhood and Adolescence,” “Prospective Studies Following Children Forward Into Adulthood,” and “Mediators and Moderators: What Contributes to Defining Pathways?” The article finishes with a look at conclusions, implications, and future directions.

“Long-Term Adult Outcomes of Peer Victimization in Childhood and Adolescence: Pathways to Adjustment and Maladjustment” looks at negative outcomes caused by bullying and analyses findings from studies that investigate why not all victims of bullying have similar outcomes in adult life.

“Translating Research to Practice in Bullying Prevention” examines findings from various studies and meta-analyses of bullying prevention programmes and makes recommendations for further research. The author (Catherine P. Bradshaw of the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia) has written previously for this newsletter’s sister publication Better: Evidence-based Education.

Source: Bullying: What We Know Based On 40 Years of Research (2015), American Psychologist, 70(4).

Predicting success for pupils with disabilities

A systematic review in Review of Educational Research uses meta-analysis to consider in-school predictors of post-school success for pupils with disabilities. The examined predictors of success include various aspects of education, employment, and independent living.

The study gathered data on 16,957 individuals from 35 sources published between 1984 and 2010. Analysis revealed a small but significant overall association between the in-school predictors and post-school outcomes.

The authors reported that their findings “showed positive relationships between predictors and outcomes in almost all cases” and that although the effects were small, they were meaningful and robust.

More specifically, the authors highlighted that their analysis showed positive effects for widely studied areas (such as vocational education, inclusive classrooms, and paid work) and understudied areas (such as Student-focused Planning and Parent Involvement, and interagency collaboration).

The paper includes discussion of implications for practice and suggested directions for future research.

Source: What works, when, for whom, and with whom: a meta-analytic review of predictors of postsecondary success for students with disabilities (2015), Review of Educational Research

Reading skills at age 10 associated with improved adult earnings

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has issued a briefing note that investigates the link between reading skills in children at age 10 and their adult outcomes. It is based on analysis of data from the British Cohort Study (a lifetime survey of people born in April 1970). The analysis aimed to account for differences in family background and skills other than reading (such as mathematics and other cognitive and non-cognitive skills).

Good reading skills in children were associated with higher earnings in adults. There was less evidence for an association between childhood reading and other outcomes, including the likelihood of being in work, health status, and passing on reading skills to future generations. The authors reported “suggestive evidence” that the association with higher earnings was stronger for children from poorer backgrounds.

The authors did not consider that their evidence definitely showed a causal relationship between reading skills and outcomes, but that the results should “be regarded as providing suggestive evidence of strong associations.”

Source: The link between childhood reading skills and adult outcomes: analysis of a cohort of British children (2015), The Institute for Fiscal Studies

For richer or poorer

A new blogpost on the Brookings website in the US explores why children raised by married parents typically do better in life on almost every available economic and social measure. Is it an effect of marriage itself, or is it simply because married parents have, on average, higher family incomes?

The authors argue that there is a growing marriage gap along class lines in the US, with fewer poorer couples choosing to marry while the institution flourishes among the affluent and well-educated. They also say that married parents tend to have, on average, higher family incomes anyway.

The researchers used benchmarks developed as part of the Brookings Social Genome Model to explore patterns in attainment, cognitive and non-cognitive skills, higher education, and later earnings.

Children who grow up with continuously married mothers rank on average 14 percentiles higher as adults on the income distribution than those who do not. Controlling for family income throughout childhood shrinks this gap from 14 percentiles to 9 percentiles. And accounting for other factors – parenting behaviour, maternal education, race, and maternal age – shrinks it further to around a 4.5 percentile difference.

Similarly, parenting behaviour appears to help explain the different outcomes. After controlling for parenting, the gap between children of continuously married mothers and others shrinks from 14 percentiles to 7.5 percentiles.

The analysis suggests that both the higher incomes and the more engaged parenting of married parents count for a good deal, and, if anything, parenting may matter a little more.

Source: The Marriage Effect: Money or Parenting? (2014), Brookings.