Scientists from Kings College London, Duke University in the US and the University of Otago in New Zealand, found that children with low cognitive test scores at the age of three are more likely as adults to become dependent on welfare services or to end up in jail.
The research, which is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, followed more than 1,000 children from the age of three until they were 38, living in New Zealand. At the age of three, each child in the study had participated in a 45-minute examination of neurological signs including intelligence, language and motor skills. The children were also rated on factors such as frustration tolerance, restlessness and impulsivity.
Using publicly held data on health, welfare and criminal justice, scientists were able to identify how much the children as adults accessed health and social services and the cost to society.
Researchers found that at the age of 38 one-fifth of the study population accounted for 81 percent of criminal convictions and 77 percent of fatherless children. This fifth of the group also consumed three-quarters of drug prescriptions, two-thirds of welfare benefits and more than half of nights spent in hsopital and cigarettes smoked.
However, the scientists claim that children’s outcomes are not set at the age of three as their life chances could be altered through intervention.
They go on to stress the importance of intervening early and say the findings should act as an ‘invitation to intervene’.
Although the research followed people in New Zealand, the scientists believe that the results could apply to other countries.
Professor Terrie Moffitt from Duke University in North California said, ‘Being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories.
'This study really gives a pretty clear picture of what happens if you don’t intervene.'
Professor Avshalom Caspi from Kings College London added, ‘There is a really powerful connection from children’s early beginnings to where they end up. The purpose of this study is to say these children - all children - need a lot of resources, and helping them could yield a remarkable return on investment when they grow up.'