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Do early social skills predict success as an adult?

Geoff Ferguson - August 4th 2015

How much are early social skills associated with later adult success? It appears the answer is...quite a lot.

girls gardening

A 20-year retrospective study has just been concluded that followed children from kindergarten to adulthood. Teachers had rated 753 children on capabilities related to social competence – including skills such as “resolves peer problems” and “listens to others”. The researchers took this data and allocated an average composite score for each child for their overall level of positive social skills and behaviour.

The researchers followed up these children 20 years later to see if these scores could have predicted their outcomes as adults. In doing so they allowed for differences based upon issues such as poverty, race, family stress, and the child’s aggression and reading levels in kindergarten.

Key results from the study included that for every one-point increase on the 5-point social competence score in kindergarten, the child 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.

Likewise, for every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score, she or he had: 

  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood; 
  • 82% higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and 
  • 82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing

‘This research study shows us that young children with more developed social competence skills are more likely to live healthier, successful lives as adults—through the education and jobs they attain and their overall quality of life.’

This study reinforces the associations between the adult outcomes and the childhood skills that are described in the Early Intervention Foundation’s March 2015 publication Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life. That publication reviews evidence that good social skills at the age of 10 were effective predictors of later life satisfaction, wellbeing, labour market success and good health. Other childhood factors rated as important in that publication were the child’s emotional well-being, self-regulation and self-awareness.

These studies reinforce what we may already think to be self-evident – that the ability to understand and to empathise with others is important for future success, given that so much of our lives are based upon relationships.

This recent study adds the hopeful possibility that even small increases in social skills, gained at an early age, may set the stage for significantly improved lives as adults. Much of the work in our Centre is intended to help children to gain a deeper sense of being in a relationship to another, to enter into a social world. This is a cornerstone of psychotherapy and its source of hope.


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Welcome to ourNews, where we keep up-to-date with research and other news related to infant mental health. These articles can be of interest to both parents and professionals.
We are keen to know your views and so please do comment on our articles.
Is there a topic that you would like us to write about? Just send us a message via 'Contact us'.

ourAdvice, our other blog, has brief posts with advice for parents.

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