Test pre­dicts which 3-year olds will grow up to be drain on so­ci­ety

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SCIENCE - By SARAH KNAPTON

A sim­ple test at the age of three can de­ter­mine whether chil­dren will grow up to be a bur­den on so­ci­ety, need­ing ex­ces­sive wel­fare, end­ing up in jail or be­com­ing obese.

Sci­en­tists at King’s Col­lege Lon­don fol­lowed more than 1,000 chil­dren from be­fore school un­til they were 38, to find out if it was pos­si­ble to pre­dict who would go on to lead trou­bled lives.

All were given a 45 minute test aged three to gauge in­tel­li­gence, lan­guage and mo­tor skills, and were also as­sessed about their lev­els of tol­er­ance, rest­less­ness, im­pul­siv­ity and so­cial dis­ad­van­tage.

Af­ter 35 years, the re­searchers found one fifth of the group was re­spon­si­ble for 81 per cent of the crim­i­nal con­vic­tions; three quar­ters of drug pre­scrip­tions; two thirds of wel­fare ben­e­fit pay­ments and more than half of nights in hos­pi­tal.

But cru­cially, they dis­cov­ered that the out­come could have been pre­dicted decades ear­lier, sim­ply by look­ing at which chil­dren at­tained the low­est test scores aged three.

The team be­lieve that if all chil­dren could be tested it would be pos­si­ble to work out who were at great­est risk, so that in­ter­ven­tions could be made to pre­vent them slip- ping into a life where they were a bur­den on the state.

“About 20 per cent of pop­u­la­tion is us­ing the lion’s share of a wide ar­ray of public ser­vices,” said Prof Ter­rie Mof­fitt, of King’s Col­lege and Duke Univer­sity in North Carolina. “The same peo­ple use most of the NHS, the crim­i­nal courts, in­sur­ance claims, for dis­abling in­jury, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal pre­scrip­tions and spe­cial wel­fare ben­e­fits.

“If we stopped there it might be fair to think th­ese are lazy bums who are freeload­ing off the tax­payer and ex­ploit­ing the public purse.

“But we also went fur­ther back into their child­hood and found that 20 per cent be­gin their lives with mild prob­lems with brain func­tion and brain health when they were very small chil­dren.

“Look­ing at health ex­am­i­na­tions re­ally changed the whole pic­ture. It gives you a feel­ing of com­pas­sion for th­ese peo­ple as op­posed to a feel­ing of blame.

“Be­ing able to pre­dict which chil­dren will strug­gle is an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­vene in their lives very early to at­tempt to change their tra­jec­to­ries, for ev­ery­one’s ben­e­fit and could bring big re­turns on in­vest­ment for govern­ment.”

The team be­gan the project to test the ‘Pareto prin­ci­ple’ — also known as the ‘80-20 rule’ — which states that in the ma­jor­ity of sys­tems, around 80 per cent of the ef­fects come from about 20 per cent of the causes.

This prin­ci­ple has been found to work com­puter science, bi­ol­ogy, physics, eco­nomics and many other fields.

The new re­search found that the law is also true for so­ci­etal bur­den. As well as in­creased crim­i­nal­ity and NHS use, the most costly par­tic­i­pants of the study also car­ried 40 per cent of the obese weight and filed 36 per cent of per­sonal-in­jury in­sur­ance claims.

“Most ex­penses from so­cial prob­lems are con­cen­trated in a small seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion,” said co-au­thor Prof Avshalom Caspi, of King’s Col­lege and Duke Univer­sity.

“So what­ever seg­ment of the health, so­cial or ju­di­cial sys­tem that you look at, we find a con­cen­tra­tion. That con­cen­tra­tion ap­prox­i­mates what Pareto an­tic­i­pated over 100 years ago.

“And we can pre­dict this quite well, be­gin­ning at age three by as­sess­ing a child’s his­tory of dis­ad­van­tage, and par­tic­u­larly their brain health. There is a re­ally pow­er­ful con­nec­tion from chil­dren’s early be­gin­nings to where they end up.”

Rena Subot­nik, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Psy­chol­ogy in Schools and Ed­u­ca­tion for the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, said that if prob­lem chil­dren could be tar­geted early so­ci­ety could ben­e­fit hugely in the long term.

“You get the best bang for the buck with early in­ter­ven­tion,” she said. “Th­ese are all traits that can be con­trolled and im­proved upon, so iden­ti­fy­ing them in young chil­dren is a gift, and all of so­ci­ety would ben­e­fit.

Prof Mof­fitt added: “This study re­ally gives a pretty clear pic­ture of what hap­pens if you don’t in­ter­vene.”

The team is now hop­ing to study the one third of peo­ple in the group who seemed to never use public ser­vices, but sim­ply paid in tax.

“I think they are re­ally in­ter­est­ing peo­ple,” added Prof Mof­fitt. “They make up the sup­port ra­tio. They haven’t been to the hos­pi­tal, they haven’t been be­fore the crim­i­nal court.

“We have this sil­ver tsunami of dis­abled baby boomers and th­ese are the young peo­ple who are go­ing to be foot­ing the bill.”

The study was pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Hu­man Be­hav­iour.


Those who scored low­est on the “brain health” test were likely to spend more time in hos­pi­tal and need more pre­scrip­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.