Childhood attention problems a risk factor for socio-economic disadvantage


Children with serious attention problems are three times more likely to experience socio-economic disadvantage in adulthood, according to a French study. The study, published today by the British Journal of Psychiatry, finds they are more likely to be employed in a lower grade job, and are less likely to be educated to university level.

The research team, led by Dr Cédric Galéra of the University of Bordeaux, say their study shows that childhood attention problems appear to be a “potent early risk factor” for low socio-economic position in adulthood.

The 1,103 study participants were first assessed during childhood, between the ages of 4 and 16, 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.

The 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 high levels of childhood attention problems were employed in low-grade occupations, compared to 34% of those with did not have attention problems.

The researchers believe attention problems could be linked to socio-economic disadvantage in several ways. Dr Galéra said:

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. 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 say there needs to be more support for young people with attention problems, both before they leave school and when entering the job market. Dr Galéra said:

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. 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. Attention problems in childhood and socioeconomic disadvantage 18 years later: the TEMPO cohort. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2012, epub ahead of publication, 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.102491 [Abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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