Childhood Self-control Predicts Health, Wealth and Public Safety
As parents and policy-makers look for insights into how to best prepare children for the future, research is focusing on the long-term implications of early development and behavioral patterns. One key factor is children’s degree of self-control, which includes attributes such as the ability to delay gratification, conscientiousness and willpower.
In a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “A Gradient of Childhood Self-control Predicts Health, Wealth and Public Safety,” researchers from Duke University and King’s College London tracked more than 1,000 children from birth to the age of 32 to examine how the degree of childhood self-control shapes health, financial and other outcomes in adulthood. The researchers studied New Zealand children born in 1972 and 1973.
The study’s findings included:
- For children whose degree of self-control was in the bottom fifth of the study, crime conviction rates in adulthood were 43%; for those in the top fifth of the study, the rate was 13%.
- Even after accounting for differing social classes and initial IQs of children, the strongest predictor of adult financial stability was self-control as a child: 32% of those with low self-control were earning in the lowest fifth of income earners, whereas only 10% of children with high self-control were in the bottom fifth of earners.
- By age 32, 10% of subjects who had poor self-control in childhood had developed substance abuse or dependency problems, versus only 3% of those with greater childhood self-control.
- Only 11% of self-disciplined children had multiple health problems in adulthood, compared to 27% of their less-disciplined counterparts.
Tags: children, crime, drugs, cognition, poverty
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study titled "A Gradient of Childhood Self-control Predicts Health, Wealth and Public Safety."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related Los Angeles Times article titled "Self-control in Kids Predicts Future Success, Study Says"
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.