Scientists can successfully predict a person’s income at age five


Graphic by Joel C. Bautista

Farah Javed, Managing Editor

Recently, scientists have been investigating how a child’s personal background, rather than just biological characteristics, can determine the type of success they could find in adulthood.

Last year, The Los Angeles Times shared an experiment called “the marshmallow test,” that tested whether children would be more likely to give into instant gratification or wait with the promise of receiving better rewards if they did. The test itself was developed in the 1960’s by Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel and focused on leaving a child aged three to five years old alone in a room.

Two plates were placed on a table before them, filled with marshmallows, pretzels, cookies or other snacks tempting to a child. The researcher would tell the child they eventually had to leave, but not before giving an ultimatum: the child could wait 15 minutes and get more snacks or eat only one but right away.

The test has since been repeated numerous times and through careful observations of each child through a two-way mirror, researchers measured the amount of time a child was able to constrain themselves before giving in.

They discovered that the white kids, with higher socioeconomic circumstances, waited the longest, which correlated with them having the necessary patience to be successful later in life.

Other studies furthered the idea that a child’s characteristics could predict their earnings. According to Scientific American, “children who were rated as ‘inattentive’ by kindergarten teachers had lower earnings at ages 33 to 35, and those rated as prosocial—being kind, helpful and considerate—earned more.”

This study took familial backgrounds and the child’s IQ into account, much like the marshmallow test’s results.

Once more, it was revealed that the white kids were amongst the prosocial and grew up to be successful.

According to a Scientific American article, in June 2019, a team of researchers led by Francis Vergunst, a postdoctoral fellow at the Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment at the University of Montreal in Canada, created a test to determine a child’s potential earnings.

Unlike previous studies, it was not based on demographics, but rather on psychographics. These scientists focused solely on the children’s personalities and emotions and set their backgrounds as a control by having the participants be white children.

 According to the JAMA Psychiatry, a sample of 2,850 children who were either five or six years old in 1980 were analyzed by their kindergarten teachers for “inattention, hyperactivity, aggression, opposition, anxiety and prosociality.” Kids with those symptoms can be linked to the kids who immediately ate the snacks, while the prosocial children are equivalent to waiting for the cookie.

30 years later, government documents from 2013 to 2015 of the same participants were analyzed and confirmed the aforementioned similarities.

The results revealed that of the predominantly white sample, men and women alike, who were considered inattentive as children, faced an average decrease in annual earnings of $1,271.49. This number is in comparison to those in the study who were said to have no issues as a child, who on average received “US $33,300 ($27,500) for men and $19,400 ($15,200) for women,” as adults.

Similarly, children found to be aggressive grew up to have a decrease of salaries by $699.83.” These two issues were found more in young boys than in girls. Adversely, the children who had been more social had salaries that were greater than the children who had no issues. In fact, they made $476.75 more.

Additionally, The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health also published a study from the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham that revealed the correlation between aggression and a lack of sociability and a child’s growth.

It explicated that, “peer rejection predicted cigarette smoking, delinquency, anxiety and global impairment at six years, and global impairment at eight years after baseline.”

Overall, this study reveals that scientists can accurately predict a child’s future outcome based on their behavior and personality. This breakthrough is important, as screening kindergarteners can lead to behavioral correction. Thus, it increases the likelihood of a child to make a higher salary when they grow up.

The study, however, does not answer why aggression was a trait solely found amongst the males and inattentiveness only an issue for females.

It also did not provide a specific means of how to correct the children’s behaviors.

Regardless, this test has proved successful in pointing scientists down the path for early childhood intervention.