A new economic analysis claims to identify future societal costs of kids with behavior problems in kindergarten (summary here). The analysis estimated costs to society in terms of crime, excess health needs and lost productivity. More about the analysis, which is ungated and linked in the paragraph below.
Researchers reviewed teacher- and parent-reported data on conduct problems among more than 1,300 kindergarten students from two multi-site, longitudinal studies conducted in U.S. schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They used government and administrative data to determine the costs associated with crimes committed by the students through age 28. The team reported their results in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
The researchers found that increased behavioral problems — such as oppositional or antisocial behavior — in kindergarten students were linked to more than $144,000 in costs, on average, per student related to crime and associated medical expenses and lost productivity as these children reached adolescence and adulthood.
The following is an excerpt from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Specifically, a 1SD increase in kindergarten conduct problems was associated with a $21,934 increase in adolescent criminal + victim costs, a $63,998 increase in adult criminal + victim costs, and a $146,279 increase in total costs across all categories.
It wasn’t clear from the study how lost productivity was calculated. It is easy to believe that behavior problems in childhood could reduce educational attainment and that criminal activity into adulthood would further impact lifetime earnings. However, I’m always skeptical of studies that report individual costs are societal costs. The cost of court and incarceration is a societal cost. The cost of medical bills not paid by the individual are societal costs. Lost earnings due to existing in drug-fueled stupor or earnings lost while in prison are costs mostly borne by the individual.
One inference from the analysis is that early intervention invested in children with behavior problems pays dividends in the use of fewer public services over time. However, evidence of that was beyond the scope of this study.
“Data from studies such as these can be used by local, state and national governments to inform budget planning that could support prevention where early risk for conduct problems can be determined,” Jones said. “Many studies have demonstrated that investing in young children through effective intervention can lead to economic benefits for people and public services over time.”
The paragraph above is an interesting thought that is worth further research. However, the degree to which kindergarteners’ behavioral problems could be treated with early intervention requires further study. It is an interesting idea, nonetheless. It is likely that variables such as home life, child neglect and absentee parents were underlying factors, which are not easily remedied.