Children with serious attention problems are more likely to work in low-grade jobs when they reach adulthood than their peers, a French study has found.
The research team, led by Dr Cédric Galéra of the University of Bordeaux, said their study shows that childhood attention problems appear to be a "potent early risk factor" for low socio-economic position in adulthood.
In the study, 1,103 participants aged 4-16 were assessed to determine if they had any attention problems. The children were then followed up 18 years later, and were asked to report on their educational attainment, employment situation and type of occupation.
Researchers found that almost half (48%) of those with high levels of childhood attention problems had a low socio-economic status in adulthood, and only 14% had a high socio-economic status. In contrast, 34% of those with low levels of childhood attention problems had a high socio-economic status.
In addition, 57% of those who had serious attention problems in childhood were employed in low-grade occupations, compared to 34% of those who did not have attention problems.
Attention problems could be linked to socio-economic disadvantage in several ways, according to the researchers. "At an early stage, attention problems are likely to contribute to academic underachievement, possibly due to the child's behavioural symptoms but also to other problems such as learning disabilities or language disorders," Dr Galéra said. "Although attention problems tend to decrease with age, difficulties with inattention, poor concentration, distractibility and emotional impulsiveness may persist into adulthood and lead to poor work performance and difficulties in relationships with work colleagues."
The researchers have called for young people with attention problems to be given more support before they leave school and when entering the job market.
"Vocational assessment and work preparation could be worthwhile for children with attention problems, and clinicians, parents, teachers and career counsellors should help youths with attention problems choose academic and occupational paths that match their strengths and weaknesses," Dr Galéra said. "And occupational adjustments in the workplace could help people optimise their abilities and minimise difficulties."
Galéra C, Bouvard M-P, Lagarde E, Michel G, Touchette E, Fombonne E and Melchior M (2012) Attention problems in childhood and socioeconomic disadvantage 18 years later: the TEMPO cohort. British Journal of Psychiatry epub ahead of publication, 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.102491