What makes a person successful? A study from Penn State University finds that a child’s prosocial behavior in kindergarten can predict success in adulthood. The results indicate that children who exhibited better prosocial behaviors, like sharing or solving their own problems, were more likely to be educated and employed, and less likely to have criminal records in their 20s. The findings suggest that social and emotional education and interventions in early childhood could be key for success later in life.
Data for the study came from the Fast Track Project, a prevention program for children at risk for long-term behavioral problems. The researchers evaluated a representative sample of over 700 children who were in the Fast Track Project’s control group; these children did not receive the Fast Track Project’s interventions.
Kindergarten teachers rated the children in the study eight times using a five-point scale. The teachers rated how well the children performed social tasks like being helpful and sharing materials. The researchers followed up with the participants when they were in their 20s, assessing five outcomes: education and employment, public assistance, criminal activity, substance abuse, and mental health.
Children’s social-emotional skills in kindergarten are significant predictors of future success. Higher ratings of prosocial skills in kindergarten were correlated to all five outcomes. For every one-point increase in their prosocial score, the participants were twice as likely to graduate college and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job by age 25. For every one-point decrease in their prosocial score, participants were 67 percent more likely to be arrested and 82 percent more likely to be in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.
These findings make a strong case for the importance of developing and monitoring children’s prosocial development.
“The good news is that social and emotional skills can improve, and this shows that we can inexpensively and efficiently measure these competences at an early age,” Damon Jones, senior research associate at Bennet Peirce Prevention Center.
This research is published in the American Journal of Public Health.
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