Study Links Social Skills in Kindergarten to Well-Being in Adulthood

Study Links Social Skills in Kindergarten to Well-Being in Adulthood

A twenty-year study funded by the and published in the shows a link between children's social skills in kindergarten and their well-being in early adulthood.

Conducted by researchers from and universities, tracked more than eight hundred children in low-income neighborhoods and found that those who were more likely to "share" or "be helpful" in kindergarten also were more likely to pursue higher education and hold full-time jobs nearly two decades later. Meanwhile, kindergarteners who lacked "social competence" skills were more likely to face negative outcomes by the age of 25, including substance abuse problems, challenges finding employment, and/or involvement with the criminal justice system.

Children who were tracked by the study were evaluated on a range of social behaviors, including how well they resolve problems with their peers, listen to others, share materials, and cooperate, and received a composite score for positive social skills/behavior on a scale from 0 ("not at all") to 4 ("very well"). According to the study, for every one-point increase in a child's social competence score, he/she was 54 percent more likely to graduate from high school, twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood, and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25. In contrast, for every one-point decrease, a child had a 52 percent higher rate of recent binge drinking and an 82 percent higher rate of marijuana usage, was 64 percent more likely to have been in juvenile detention, 67 percent more likely to have been arrested by early adulthood, and 82 percent more likely to be on a waiting list for public housing.

Although the study did not analyze the economic benefits of social and emotional skill development in early childhood, the researchers suggest that effective, evidence-based programs to improve skills could provide significant cost-savings over time.

"The good news is that social and emotional skills can improve," said Damon Jones, a senior research associate at Penn State and one of the authors of the study. "This research by itself doesn’t prove that higher social competence can lead to better outcomes later on. But when combined with other research, it is clear that helping children develop these skills increases their chances of success in school, work, and life."