Children who struggle to concentrate at school go on to earn ‘thousands less a year’

Children who find it difficult to focus when they are six years old earn less as adults, research suggests. 

A study found six-year-olds who have their ‘head in the clouds’ take home less each year when they reach their thirties.

When their lack of focus was scored from zero-to-three, just a one point decrease led to the boys earning $1,271.49 (£1,007) less a year.

Inattentive girls suffered a $924.25 (£732) salary cut, according to the research by the University of Montréal.

Aggressive boys who bully, bite or kick pay the consequences in later life, earning on average $699.83 (£554) less a year. However, the same was not true for girls.

Researchers worry poor concentration at school may affect a youngster’s academic performance, which then impacts their career path. 

And violent boys may mix with ‘the wrong crowd’, which also sets back their school achievements. 

Children who struggle to focus in reception earn less as adults, research suggests (stock)

The research was led by Dr Sylvana Côté, a professor in the school of public health. 

‘Our study shows that childhood inattention is associated with a wide range of long-term adverse outcomes, including lower earnings over the course of a career,’ the researchers wrote in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Poor attention spans, hyperactivity and aggression in childhood have been linked to everything from unemployment to financial woes in later life. 

This has ‘implications for society’, with such individuals being more likely to suffer from mental health conditions and to claim benefits, the researchers add.

However, childhood behaviours may be ‘modifiable’ and are arguably easier to change than IQ or family background. 

To uncover how our childhood attention span impacts later salary, the researchers analysed data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children. 

The study asked primary school teachers to rate the behaviour of 2,850 five-to-six year olds. 

Inattention was defined as ‘having one’s head in the clouds’, lacking concentration and being easily distracted. 

The teachers also noted any hyperactivity or physical aggression, such as kicking and biting.

These were rated on a three-point scale, with zero indicating never and three often. 

In the first study of its kind, the same children’s government tax returns were analysed when they reached 33-to-35.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition defined by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

It affects around five per cent of children in the US. Some 3.6 per cent of boys and 0.85 per cent of girls suffer in the UK. 

Symptoms typically appear at an early age and become more noticeable as a child grows. These can also include:

  • Constant fidgeting 
  • Poor concentration
  • Excessive movement or talking
  • Acting without thinking
  • Little or no sense of danger 
  • Careless mistakes
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Difficulty organising tasks
  • Inability to listen or carry out instructions 

Most cases are diagnosed between six and 12 years old. Adults can also suffer, but there is less research into this.

ADHD’s exact cause is unclear but is thought to involve genetic mutations that affect a person’s brain function and structure.

Premature babies and those with epilepsy or brain damage are more at risk. 

ADHD is also linked to anxiety, depression, insomnia, Tourette’s and epilepsy.  

There is no cure. 

A combination of medication and therapy is usually recommended to relieve symptoms and make day-to-day life easier. 

Source: NHS Choices 

The men earned on average $33,300 (£26,391) a year and the women $19,400 (£15,375) – a 71 per cent disparity.  

Results revealed both the men and women who had poor attention spans as children took home less as adults.   

But the boys who acted in a way that benefited others went on to do better.

Every one extra point on the ‘pro-sociality score’ boosted a man’s later salary by $476.75 (£377).

Again, pro-sociality in childhood did not benefit the girls’ futures. 

The researchers speculate this may be due to young females with ‘pro-social behaviours’ being more likely to pursue  ‘socially orientated but not traditionally high-earning’ jobs, such as teaching or nursing.

‘We expected to find differences between boys and girls, and we did find some important ones,’ Professor Côté said.

‘We expected hyperactivity to be the most important variable, but in fact it turned out to be less important than simple lack of attention.’ 

The 336 participants who did not earn anything were more likely to have suffered behavioural problems, as well as poor academic performance and family issues, as children. 

‘And all this has nothing to do with intelligence or IQ because extreme cases have been excluded from the sampling,’ Professor Côté said.

The researchers calculated a one point reduction in inattention scores among six year olds would theoretically help men earn $3,077 (£2,438) more a year, while adding $1,915 (£1,517) to women’s salaries. 

‘Over a 25-year career, the differences between the two groups can reach $77,000 (£61,010),’ Professor Côté said. 

Poor concentration may affect a child’s performance at school, which then impacts them throughout their life.

‘Inattention has been repeatedly associated with low educational attainment, which in turn has been associated with lower occupational status and earnings,’ the researchers wrote.

And aggressive behaviours early on may have similarly long-lasting effects.

‘Antisocial behavior in adolescence, which is more prevalent among individuals with attention and behavioral problems, has been shown to disrupt educational achievement and harm occupational attainment,’ the researchers wrote.

‘[And] an association with delinquent peers could increase the risk of antisocial behavior and low educational attainment.’

Attention spans aside, it was the difference between the male and female participants’ salaries that left the researchers reeling.

‘These girls are now 35-to-40 years old,’ Professor Côté said. ‘They are as educated as boys and have similar experiences. 

‘Are there any individual, family or school factors in childhood or adolescence that would explain the income gap? That’s what we’ll try to find out.’