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How Is Early-Childhood Intervention Like Compound Interest?

Jason Fletcher, who teaches public health at Yale, has written earlier on the connection between ADHD and crime. (The gist: “children who experience ADHD symptoms face a substantially increased likelihood of engaging in many types of criminal activities.”) He now has a new working paper called “The Effects of Childhood ADHD on Adult Labor Market Outcomes” (abstract, PDF):

While several types of mental illness, including substance abuse disorders, have been linked with poor labor market outcomes, no current research has been able to examine the effects of childhood ADHD.  As ADHD has become one of the most prevalent childhood mental conditions, it is useful to understand the full set of consequences of the illness.  This paper uses a longitudinal national sample, including sibling pairs, to show important labor market outcome consequences of ADHD.  The employment reduction is between 10-14 percentage points, the earnings reduction is approximately 33%, and the increase in social assistance is 15 points, which are larger than many estimates of the black-white earnings gap and the gender earnings gap.  A small share of the link is explained by education attainments and co-morbid health conditions and behaviors.  The results also show important differences in labor market consequences by family background and age of onset. These findings, along with similar research showing that ADHD is linked with poor education outcomes and adult crime, suggest that treating childhood ADHD can substantially increase the acquisition of human capital.

The more research of this sort that we see, the easier it is to believe the following: compound interest may indeed be the eighth wonder of the world, but early-childhood investment and intervention is probably Wonder 7.5.