The Academic Consequences of Early Childhood Problem Behaviors

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Social/emotional skills in early childhood are associated with education, labor market, and family formation outcomes throughout the life course. One explanation for these associations is that poor social/emotional skills in early childhood interfere with the development of cognitive skills. In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 2302) to examine how the timing of social/emotional skills—measured as internalizing, externalizing, and attention problem behaviors in early childhood—is associated with cognitive test scores in middle childhood. Results show that externalizing problems at age 3 and attention problems at age 5, as well as externalizing and attention problems at both ages 3 and 5, are associated with poor cognitive development in middle childhood, net of a wide array of control variables and prior test scores. Surprisingly, maternal engagement at age five does not mediate these associations.

Turney, Kristin, and Sara McLanahan. 2015. “The Academic Consequences of Early Childhood Problem Behaviors.” Social Science Research 54:131–145.