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Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness

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We examined whether kindergarten teachers' ratings of children's prosocial skills, an indicator of noncognitive ability at school entry, predict key adolescent and adult outcomes. Our goal was to determine unique associations over and above other important child, family, and contextual characteristics. Data came from the Fast Track study of low-socioeconomic status neighborhoods in 3 cities and 1 rural setting. We assessed associations between measured outcomes in kindergarten and outcomes 13 to 19 years later (1991-2000). Models included numerous control variables representing characteristics of the child, family, and context, enabling us to explore the unique contributions among predictors. We found statistically significant associations between measured social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health. A kindergarten measure of social-emotional skills may be useful for assessing whether children are at risk for deficits in noncognitive skills later in life and, thus, help identify those in need of early intervention. These results demonstrate the relevance of noncognitive skills in development for personal and public health outcomes. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015: e1-e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630).
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Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The
Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence
and Future Wellness
Damon E. Jones, PhD, Mark Greenberg, PhD, and Max Crowley, PhD
Understanding what early characteristics pre-
dict future outcomes could be of great value in
helping children develop into healthy adults. In
recent years, much research has been directed
toward understanding noncognitive traits in
children that may increase the likelihood of
healthy personal development and eventual
adult well-being.
1
For predicting future success
in the workplace, levels of cognitive ability
measured through IQ or test scores alone are
less predictive than measures of educational
attainment, which require not just cognitive
ability but also noncognitive characteristics
such as self-discipline, academic motivation,
and interpersonal skills.
2
Future likelihood of
committing crimes is greatly inuenced by
noncognitive processes in development, such
as externalizing behavior, social empathy, and
effectively regulating emotions.
3
A recent study
found that noncognitive ability in the form of
self-control in childhood was predictive of adult
outcomes ranging from physical health to crime
to substance abuse.
4
The value of noncognitive
skills has also been determined through eval-
uation of interventions such as the landmark
Perry Preschool program, in which improve-
ments in noncognitive skills related to behavior
and academic motivation were found to be
central to long-term effects on crime and
employment.
5
Inadequate levels of social and emotional
functioning are increasingly recognized as
central to many public health problems (e.g.,
substance abuse, obesity, violence). Just as re-
searchers study how academic achievement
in a population can lift groups out of poverty,
public health scientists are now studying how
these noncognitive factors affect health and
wellness across domains.
Classication of characteristics into com-
plementary cognitive and noncognitive
categories is a convenient way to characterize
competencies in human development. Cogni-
tive skills involve achievement-oriented tasks,
such as problem solving, and academic abilities,
which are measured by achievement tests; the
noncognitive category covers everything else,
such as behavioral characteristics, emotion
regulation, attention, self-regulation, and social
skills. Designation of cognitive versus noncog-
nitive skills oversimplies the complexity of
skills and the role of cognition. Cognitive skills
are involved not only in intelligence and
achievement, but also in attention, emotion
regulation, attitudes, motivation, and the con-
duct of social relationships (e.g., Farrington
et al. provide an overview of noncognitive traits
in educational research
6
).
Noncognitive skills interact with cognitive
skills to enable success in school and the
workplace.
7,8
This is most easily seen in an
educational setting. Achievement is driven
by intellectual ability as well as by the
self-regulation, positive attitudes, motivation,
and conscientiousness that are required to
complete educational milestones. Substantial
differences in noncognitive skills have been
found between those who graduate from high
school on time and those who complete a gen-
eral equivalency diploma, as reected in sub-
sequent adult and economic outcomes.
9
Interpersonal skills are also important for chil-
dren navigating the social setting, and positive
interactions with adults are essential for success
in school. Success in school involves both
social-emotional and cognitive skills, because
social interactions, attention, and self-control
affect readiness for learning.
10,11
An additional feature of noncognitive com-
petencies is that they may be more malleable
than cognitive skills and thus may be appro-
priate targets for prevention or intervention
efforts.
12
Of course, the degree to which this
is true depends on the specic skill and on
Objectives. We examined whether kindergarten teachers’ ratings of children’s
prosocial skills, an indicator of noncognitive ability at school entry, predict key
adolescent and adult outcomes. Our goal was to determine unique associations
over and above other important child, family, and contextual characteristics.
Methods. Data came from the Fast Track study of low–socioeconomic status
neighborhoods in 3 cities and 1 rural setting. We assessed associations between
measured outcomes in kindergarten and outcomes 13 to 19 years later (1991–
2000). Models included numerous control variables representing characteristics
of the child, family, and context, enabling us to explore the unique contributions
among predictors.
Results. We found statistically significant associations between measured
social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across
multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use,
and mental health.
Conclusions. A kindergarten measure of social-emotional skills may be useful
for assessing whether children are at risk for deficits in noncognitive skills later in
life and, thus, help identify those in need of early intervention. These results
demonstrate the relevance of noncognitive skills in development for personal
and public health outcomes. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of
print July 16, 2015: e1–e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630)
RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015 |American Journal of Public Health Jones et al. |Peer Reviewed |Research and Practice |e1
multiple factors associated with childrens
characteristics and environment. Regardless,
a challenge lies in effectively assessing chil-
drens competencies at an early enough age
that intervention or prevention efforts might be
introduced. Although an assessment at any 1
point may be inadequate for summarizing an
individuals overall noncognitive competencies,
it is useful to know what early competencies
predict future success and avoidance of prob-
lems. This is especially relevant in light of
studies showing the value of enhancing the
social-behavioral and learning environment of
young children,
13
to foster positive child de-
velopment as well as to alter adult health and
labor market outcomes.
11, 14
A key characteristic of noncognitive ability
in young children is social competence. Social
competence encompasses both the ability to
complete tasks and manage responsibilities and
effective skills for handling social and emo-
tional experiences. Childrens social compe-
tence can be assessed by their kindergarten
teachers, who observe many instances in which
children need to manage relations with peers
and adults. The school setting provides the
opportunity to observe childrens abilities to
interact interpersonally as they cooperate with
others to complete daily tasks and resolve
conicts. Such skills are important for success-
ful progression in early grades.
We investigated how well key late adoles-
cent and early adult outcomes were predicted
by teacher ratings of childrens social compe-
tence (1 indicator of early noncognitive ability)
measured many years previously in kinder-
garten in participants from low---socioeconomic
status neighborhoods. Specically, we exam-
ined how a measure of early prosocial skills
predicted outcomes spanning important sectors
of education, employment, criminal justice,
substance use, and mental health domains.
We used a straightforward analytic approach:
modeling the link between social competence
measured in kindergarten and outcomes mea-
sured 13 to 19 years later. These models did
not determine causal associations, despite the
temporal ordering between predictors and
outcomes. However, inclusion of several con-
trol variables, representing various character-
istics of the child and family context, enabled us
to explore the unique contribution of featured
predictors.
For predictors we focused on the earliest age
for which data were available: measures ob-
tained when children were in kindergarten.
Throughout the analytic process we found it
useful to consider whether other important
background variables predicted future out-
comes. However, our primary objective was
to determine how well an inexpensive,
easily obtained snapshot of social competence
at formal entrance to school predicted
important outcomes, after adjustment for
other expected inuences on development,
such as family circumstances, gender, academic
ability, and behavior. If such a measure
can identify early noncognitive deciencies,
this could provide important information
for determining potential targets for early
intervention.
METHODS
We used data from the longitudinal, non-
intervention subsample of the Fast Track
Project, an intervention program designed to
reduce aggression in children identied as at
high risk for long-term behavioral problems
and conduct disorders.
15
The Fast Track
study design comprised an intervention group
and a matched control group sample of high-
risk children as well as a non---high-risk (nor-
mative) subsample of students attending
control schools. We focused on the high-risk
control students and the normative sample
those individuals who did not receive any
Fast Track prevention services. The total
sample size was 753 (high-risk control group,
n = 367; non---high-risk, normative group,
n = 386).
Participants were recruited from the 4
study sites (3 urban, 1 rural): Durham, North
Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Seattle,
Washington; and central Pennsylvania. Further
information on the Fast Track Project sample
recruitment process is available in study pub-
lications.
15,16
In the total sample, 58% were
boys, about 50% were White, 46% were
African American, and 4% had other racial/
ethnic backgrounds. The study oversampled
higher-risk students, and we employed sam-
pling probability weights in all analyses. More
information on the design is provided in Ap-
pendix A, which describes the screening and
recruitment process (available as a supplement
to the online version of this article at http://
www.ajph.org).
The project rst collected data when chil-
dren were attending kindergarten; initial data
collection for the rst cohort took place in
1991. Final follow-up data were collected 19
years later, when participants were aged ap-
proximately 25 years. Participation from the
original sample was high, and we found no
differential response in analyses considering
a range of baseline variables. More detail on
this assessment and the follow-up sample are
provided in a recent study of long-term in-
tervention effects.
17
Our outcome measures concerned educa-
tion, employment, public assistance, crime,
mental health, and substance use. The project
measured all outcomes through late adoles-
cence or early adulthood. We included rele-
vant background variables in the models to
control for characteristics of the children at
kindergarten age and their families. Most im-
portantly, we selected control variables that
would better enable identication of unique
prediction attributable to early social skills.
Thus, models included variables representing
family demographics (gender, race, number
of parents in the home, socioeconomic status),
early childhood aggression (both in school and
at home), early academic ability, and other
contextual factors. We did not include the
indicator for gender in models of justice system
outcomes because of the very low rate of
criminal offenses among female participants.
We did not include region as a covariate in
models. Initially we included 3 dummy vari-
ables to represent project site, but we removed
this covariate when initial tests indicated little
difference between regions on the study out-
come variables.
Table 1 provides the outcomes and control
variables for all analytic models, with informa-
tion on the scales used and the data sources.
Appendix A (available as an online supple-
ment) provides more details on measurement
sources and scale reliabilities for all variables
used in analyses.
To represent social competence in kinder-
garten, we chose the Prosocial---Communication
Skills subscale of the Social Competence Scale.
32
The score combined 9 items that teachers rated
on a 5-point Likert scale, assessing how the
child interacted socially with others. Examples
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TABLE 1—Measures and Data Sources in Study of Social-Emotional Functioning in Kindergarten as Predictor of Adolescent
and Young Adult Outcomes
Variable Survey Source
Model outcomes
Education/employment
High school graduation on time
a
National Longitudinal Surveys
18
Self-report
College graduation
a
Self-report
Currently employed full-time
a
Self-report
Stable employment
a
Self-report
Years of special education services,
b
no. School Archival Records Survey
19
(grades 1–12) School records
Years of repeated grades,
b
no. School records
Public assistance
On waiting list for public housing
a
Neighborhoods and Government Programs
20
Self-report
Receiving public assistance
a
Self-report
Receiving unemployment compensation
a
Self-report
Crime
Arrests for severe offense,
a
no. Juvenile and adult court data
21
Court records
Ever arrested
b
Service Assessment for Children and Adolescents
22
Self-report
Ever arrested
c
Self-report
Ever made court appearance
b
Self-report
Ever made court appearance
c
Self-report
Ever had police contact
b
Self-report
Ever stayed in detention facility
b,c
Combined outcomes from self-report and criminal records
21,22
Self-report, court records
Substance abuse
Alcohol dependence
a
Self-Reported Substance Use and Dependence
23
Self-report
Drug dependence
a
Self-report
Smoked regularly in past month
a
Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey
24
Self-report
Days of binge drinking in past month,
a
no. Self-report
Days of marijuana use in past month,
a
no. Self-report
Mental health
Externalizing problems
a
Young Adult Self-Report
25
Self-report
Internalizing problems
a
Self-report
Years on medications,
b,d
no. Social Health Profile
20
Primary caregiver
Model predictors (for child at kindergarten age)
Gender (female) Family information form
26
Primary caregiver
Race (African American) Primary caregiver
Family socioeconomic status (Hollingshead code) Primary caregiver
Mother an adolescent at child’s birth Primary caregiver
Neighborhood total score Neighborhood Questionnaire
27
Primary caregiver
Life stresses total score Life Changes
20
Primary caregiver
Letter–word identification score Woodcock–Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery
28
Administered survey
Authority acceptance Teacher Observation of Child Adaptation–Revised
29
Teacher
Externalizing score Child Behavior Checklist
30
Primary caregiver
Prosocial–communication skills Social Competence Scale
31
Teacher
a
Measured at age 25 years.
b
Through high school.
c
Measured after high school (aged 19–20 years).
d
For emotional or behavioral issues.
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of these items include cooperates with peers
without prompting,”“is helpful to others,”“very
good at understanding feelings,and resolves
problems on own.Internal reliability coef-
cients were very high (a= 0.97), and univariate
assessment demonstrated good distributional
characteristics (unweighted mean = 1.90;
SD = 0.97). The subscale was highly associated
with other subscales in the measure, such as the
Emotion Regulation subscale (r=0.90).
A natural question in this type of research is
whether associations may differ because of
differing background variables. Although we
did not formally investigate potential modera-
tion of associations, we explored whether race
or gender moderated links within domains. We
executed a representative number of models
from each domain with an interaction term
entered for the cross between the potential
moderator and prosocial skills. In this prelim-
inary investigation, we found no patterns of
moderation exerted by race or gender on any
outcome domains. We therefore did not con-
duct extensive tests of moderation (to keep the
number of statistical tests for overall models
manageable). Follow-up research could include
a more specic focus on the potential differ-
ences in linkages within a given outcome
domain across key demographic distinctions.
We used separate regression models for
each study outcome. We regressed dependent
variables on our control variables as well as on
the social competence score. We ran logistic
regressions for all dichotomous outcomes and
count-based regressions for the measures of
amounts. The latter involved Poisson regres-
sion unless outcomes were overdispersed, in
which case we used a negative binomial
modeling specication.
32
We used a
zero-inated Poisson model for 1 count out-
come (number of arrests for severe crimes by
age 25 years). We conducted analyses with
M-Plus software with full-information maxi-
mum likelihood estimation techniques,
33
which provided results representing the full
sample (n = 753) at kindergarten (integrating
over the missing cases). We used Monte Carlo
integration techniques for parameter esti-
mates, because of the categorical nature of the
outcomes. We also specied robust standard
error estimation for all models.
Rates of missing data varied by outcome
(Table 2). Attrition was lower for outcomes
obtained prior to the end of high school.
Missing data rates also were lower for out-
comes obtained through public criminal re-
cords at early adulthood. Accommodation of
missing data through full-information maxi-
mum likelihood procedures assumes that
missing data are conditionally missing at ran-
dom, with all measured covariates in the
analytic model considered.
34
RESULTS
Table 2 provides the means and standard
deviations for predictors in all analytic models
and for the separate adolescent and adult
outcomes that we examined. Results from
regression models are presented in Table 3
for the estimate on prosocial skills. Odds
ratios (ORs) are provided for results from
logistic regression models; incidence rate
ratios (IRRs) are provided for results from
count-based regression models. We consid-
ered results signicant at P< .05. Appendix B
(available as a supplement to the online
version of this article at http://www.ajph.org)
shows statistical signicance results for
all model covariates and details on joint
prediction among all variables; estimates
are indicated in terms of direction of
association.
Our analyses included 4 education and
employment outcomes representing attainment
through age 25 years. Kindergarten prosocial
skills were signicantly and uniquely predictive
of all 4 outcomes: whether participants gradu-
ated from high school on time (OR = 1.54;
95% condence interval [CI] = 1.09, 2.19;
P< .05; Table 3), completed a college degree
(OR = 2.00; 95% CI = 1.07, 3.75; P< .05),
obtained stable employment in young adult-
hood (OR = 1.66; 95% CI = 1.13, 2.43;
P< .01), and were employed full time in young
adulthood (OR = 1.46; 95% CI = 1.02, 2.08;
P< .05). For the 2 outcomes spanning school
ages, we observed a negative association for
number of years of special education services
(IRR = 0.54; 95% CI = 0.44, 0.67; P< .001)
and number of years of repeated grades
through high school (IRR = 0.79; 95%
CI = 0.65, 0.97; P< .05).
Two of the 3 outcomes representing public
assistance in young adulthood were signi-
cantly linked to early social competence. Early
prosocial skills were negatively related to the
likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list
for public housing (OR = 0.55; 95% CI = 0.36,
0.85; P< .01; Table 3) and of receiving public
assistance (OR = 0.63; 95% CI = 0.43, 0.91;
P< .05). We found no signicant association
for receiving unemployment compensation in
young adulthood.
Results for justice system outcomes dem-
onstrated consistent patterns across different
ages and variables. Early prosocial skills were
signicantly inversely predictive of any in-
volvement with police before adulthood
(OR = 0.65; 95% CI = 0.45, 0.94; P< .05)
and ever being in a detention facility
(OR = 0.61; 95% CI = 0.40, 0.94; P< .05).
Although juvenilesself-reportofwhether
they had been arrested and or had appeared
in court followed the same pattern, the esti-
mates were not statistically signicant at con-
ventional levels. In young adulthood, early
social competence was signicantly and
uniquely linked to being arrested (OR = 0.60;
95% CI = 0.44, 0.90; P< .05) and appearing
in court (OR = 0.63; 95% CI = 0.43, 0.91;
P< .05). Finally, early social competence sig-
nicantly predicted the number of arrests for
a severe offense by age 25 years (IRR = 0.68;
95% CI = 0.49, 0.94; P< .05), as determined
through public records.
Although early social competence was not
associated with alcohol and drug dependence
diagnoses in early adulthood, our models
showed that it correlated with substance abuse
behavior. We found statistically signicant
associations in separate models of the number
of days of binge drinking in the past month
(IRR = 0.66; 95% CI = 0.44, 0.97; P< .05)
and the number of days marijuana was used
(IRR = 0.55; 95% CI = 0.35, 0.87; P< .01). An
association with regular tobacco use was not
signicant.
Results were mixed on associations between
early prosocial skills and future mental health
outcomes, although patterns were consistent
with ndings in other domains. Links between
kindergarten prosocial skills and future inter-
nalizing and externalizing problems were
nonsignicant at conventional levels. Finally,
early prosocial skills signicantly predicted
number of years on medication for emotional
or behavioral issues through high school
(OR = 0.54; 95% CI = 0.40, 0.75; P< .001).
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DISCUSSION
We examined whether early childhood so-
cial competence predicted outcomes measured
up to 2 decades later. We evaluated outcomes
that broadly represented personal well-being,
covering domains of education, employment,
crime, substance use, and mental health. Such
outcomes are markers of personal success or
avoidance of problems. These outcomes are
also economically relevant to both individual
and public resources. Overall, results indicated
statistically signicant and unique associations
between teacher-assessed prosocial skills and
outcomes in all domains examined.
We used a rich database that combined
a long time frame of data collection with
coverage of various domains of human devel-
opment and adult outcomes. Such data pro-
vided the unique opportunity to investigate the
importance of early social-emotional charac-
teristics. An additional strength of these data
was that they involved multiple sources of
information: teachers, parents, self-reports, and
public records.
Our results support previous research that
examined long-term prediction from noncog-
nitive skills, most by notably Moftt et al., who
found that self-control across early childhood
was a signicant predictor of outcomes in
multiple domains of early adult functioning.
4
Other important research has shown that
noncognitive skills are not as reliable pre-
dictors for some outcomes (e.g., achievement),
as other, more strictly cognitive characteris-
tics, such as academic achievement at school
entry.
10, 35
Results across studies likely differ
because of variation in predictors used, qual-
ity of measurement of study constructs, out-
come domains, age at baseline and follow-up,
and other characteristics of the population
studied.
Our results demonstrate the predictive
power of teacher-measured prosocial skills in-
dependent of child, family, and contextual
factors that typically predict adult outcomes,
because we controlled for socioeconomic sta-
tus, family risk status, neighborhood quality,
and childrens characteristics (notably behav-
ioral traits and early academic ability). Our
results conrm that these control variables are
indeed predictive of some adult outcomes but
TABLE 2—Model Predictors and Adolescent and Young Adult Outcomes Associated
With Social-Emotional Functioning in Kindergarten: Fast Track Project, United States,
1991–2010
Variable No. Mean (SD)
Model predictors
Gender (female) 753 0.42 (0.49)
Race (African American) 753 0.46 (0.50)
Family socioeconomic status (Hollingshead code) 753 25.65 (12.90)
Mother an adolescent at child’s birth 636 0.16 (0.37)
Neighborhood total score 752 0.03 (0.61)
Life stresses total score 745 1.51 (0.75)
Woodcock–Johnson letter-word identification score 752 12.83 (4.22)
Authority acceptance (teacher-rated behavior) 749 57.34 (11.57)
Child Behavior Checklist externalizing score (parent-rated behavior) 746 57.57 (10.20)
Prosocial–communication skills 686 1.90 (0.97)
Model outcomes
Education/employment
High school graduation on time
a
620 0.63 (0.48)
College graduation
a
620 0.11 (0.32)
Currently employed full-time
a
621 0.49 (0.50)
Stable employment
a
611 0.32 (0.47)
Years of special education services,
b
no. 736 2.19 (3.56)
Years of repeated grades,
b
no. 751 0.66 (0.90)
Public assistance
On waiting list for public housing
a
615 0.16 (0.37)
Receiving public assistance
a
603 0.34 (0.47)
Receiving unemployment compensation
a
603 0.18 (0.38)
Crime
Arrests for severe offense,
a
no. 753 0.12 (0.33)
Ever arrested
b
516 0.34 (0.47)
Ever arrested
c
525 0.26 (0.44)
Ever made court appearance
b
519 0.35 (0.48)
Ever made court appearance
c
534 0.33 (0.47)
Ever had police contact
b
562 0.60 (0.49)
Ever stayed in detention facility
b,c
526 0.22 (0.42)
Substance abuse
Alcohol dependence
a
556 0.26 (0.44)
Drug dependence
a
550 0.10 (0.30)
Smoked regularly in past month
a
575 0.38 (0.49)
Days of binge drinking in past month,
a
no. 602 1.69 (4.65)
Days of marijuana use in past month,
a
no. 607 3.60 (8.94)
Mental health
Externalizing problems
a
620 0.21 (0.41)
Internalizing problems
a
620 0.29 (0.46)
Years on medications,
b,d
no. 720 0.93 (2.14)
Note. Participants were recruited from 4 study sites (3 urban, 1 rural): Durham, NC; Nashville, TN; Seattle, WA; and central
Pennsylvania.
a
At age 25 years.
b
Through high school.
c
Measured after high school (aged 19–20 years).
d
For emotional or behavioral issues.
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that additional, unique variance can be attrib-
uted to social competence at school entrance.
In many cases, social competence was
a stronger predictor (according to statistical
Pvalues) than factors seemingly more directly
aligned with the outcome. This was most
striking in our comparison of associations of
kindergarten teacher---rated aggression and so-
cial competence with later crime outcomes: the
measure of prosocial skills was a consistent
predictor of future crime outcomes, but the
level of aggression observed by the same
teacher was not usually signicantly predictive
after adjustment for other factors (including
a separate measure of aggression from the
primary caretaker). A partial explanation may
be that aggression is a less stable characteristic
among kindergarteners than is the broader
domain of positive social relations. Further-
more, although a relatively small percentage of
children show early aggressive behavior and,
thus, skew the distribution, social competence
is more normally distributed and therefore
may be a better predictor across the spectrum.
The 2 measures shared the same rater and
were moderately correlated (roughly 0.50 in
this sample), as would be expected.
Limitations
Focusing on a single measurement at an
early age is somewhat risky because charac-
teristics of social competence as recognized by
teachers may manifest in different ways in later
years. We could not determine causal associa-
tions, but our ndings suggest the potential for
such a measure to be used in screening for
intervention at an early stage of development.
Noncognitive factors such as conscientiousness,
self-regulation, motivation, academic ability,
and other attitudes and behaviors in later
childhood years may be more important
markers of long-term outcomes, but they
have not yet been fully developed and thus
have not been efciently assessed in children
at 5 years of age.
Our measure of social competence was
a continuous composite from teacher observa-
tion that combined multiple social-behavioral
scenarios for the child. This measure, although
subject to measurement error, likely represents
childrens social competence relatively well,
because the teacher has been a daily observer
in the classroom setting. For the kindergarten
data, we were not able to clearly distinguish
between social competence and self-regulation,
because the 2 scales were so highly correlated
(and thus were not included in the same
multiple regression). Self-regulation is likely
reected in socially competent behavior but is
multidimensional and may be assessed inde-
pendently through tests of executive function
as children mature and take on more respon-
sibility to progress through school.
Our measure of social competence was
continuous, raising the issue of whether there
may be certain cutoffs (e.g., very low compe-
tence) where this characteristic might be espe-
cially predictive of later outcomes. In addition,
with the available data, we were not able to
assess the validity of the measure for prosocial
skills. We focused on what was measured at
TABLE 3—Logistic Regression and Negative Binomial Regression Results for Associations of
Social-Emotional Functioning in Kindergarten With Adolescent and Young Adult Outcomes:
Fast Track Project, United States, 1991–2010
Outcome OR (95% CI) IRR (95% CI)
Education/employment
High school graduation on time
a
1.54* (1.09, 2.19)
College graduation
a
2.00* (1.07, 3.75)
Currently employed full-time
a
1.46* (1.02, 2.08)
Stable employment
a
1.66** (1.13, 2.43)
Years of special education services,
b
no. 0.54*** (0.44, 0.67)
Years of repeated grades,
b
no. 0.79* (0.65, 0.97)
Public assistance
Living in/on waiting list for public housing
a
0.55** (0.36, 0.85)
Receiving public assistance
a
0.63* (0.43, 0.91)
Receiving unemployment compensation
a
0.89 (0.55, 1.45)
Crime
Arrests for severe offense,
a
no. 0.68* (0.49, 0.94)
Ever arrested
b
0.67 (0.44, 1.02)
Ever arrested
c
0.60* (0.40, 0.90)
Ever made court appearance
b
0.70 (0.47, 1.03)
Ever made court appearance
c
0.63* (0.43, 0.91)
Ever had police contact
b
0.65* (0.45, 0.94)
Ever stayed in detention facility
b,c
0.61* (0.40, 0.94)
Substance abuse
Alcohol dependence
a
0.89 (0.59, 1.35)
Drug dependence
a
0.86 (0.45, 1.65)
Smoked regularly in past month
a
0.71 (0.48, 1.04)
Days of binge drinking in past month,
a
no. 0.66* (0.44, 0.97)
Days of marijuana use in past month,
a
no. 0.55** (0.35, 0.84)
Mental health
Externalizing problems
a
0.61 (0.36, 1.02)
Internalizing problems
a
0.70 (0.48, 1.03)
Years on medications,
b,d
no. 0.54*** (0.40, 0.75)
Note. CI = confidence interval; IRR = incidence rate ratio; OR = odds ratio. Participants were recruited from 4 study sites (3
urban, 1 rural): Durham, NC; Nashville, TN; Seattle, WA; and central Pennsylvania. Control variables were gender, race (African
American), family socioeconomic status, neighborhood quality, family life stressors, whether mother was an adolescent, early
academic skill, teacher-rated aggression, and parent-rated aggression.
a
At age 25 years.
b
Through high school.
c
Measured after high school (aged 19–20 years).
d
For emotional or behavioral issues.
*P< 05; **P< .01; ***P< .001.
RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
e6 |Research and Practice |Peer Reviewed |Jones et al. American Journal of Public Health |Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015
school entry and likely fell well short of com-
pletely understanding noncognitive ability and
what it might entail throughout development.
Conclusions
Our goal was to examine what can be
assessed at school entrance when plans for
addressing problems or enhancing skills may
best be initiated. Our results suggest that
perceived early social competence at least
serves as a marker for important long-term
outcomes and at most is instrumental in inu-
encing other developmental factors that col-
lectively affect the life course. Evaluating such
characteristics in children could be important
in planning interventions and curricula to
improve these social competencies. Although
softerskills can be more malleable and, thus,
possibly better candidates for intervention,
they are also less likely to be captured in
a single measurement at a single time than are
variables such as IQ.
36
Certainly, intervention-
ists are challenged not only by what specic
skills to focus on, but also by what ages to
assess, how to consider the likely interactions
with other traits (including cognitive skills), the
role of contextual factors, and how best to
measure (what sources, whether to combine
measures, etc.).
6
The growing body of literature that demon-
strates the importance of noncognitive skills in
development should motivate policymakers and
program developers to target efforts to improve
these skills to young children. Much evidence
has shown how effective intervention in pre-
school and the early elementary years can
improve childhood noncognitive skills in a last-
ing way.
9,37---40
Enhancing these skills can have
an impact in multiple areas and therefore has
potential for positively affecting individuals as
well as community public health substantially.
Our study demonstrates the unique predic-
tive nature of early social competence on
important outcomes in late adolescence and
early adulthood. Our results showed that
teacher-rated prosocial skills in kindergarten
were a consistently signicant predictor across
all outcome domains studied; thus, a measure
such as this may be a good candidate for
assessing whether children are at risk for
decits in noncognitive skills at school entry.
We look forward to further research on the
importance of social-emotional competencies
in early development, especially among indi-
viduals more at risk for problems or less pre-
pared to succeed in school or (eventually) the
labor force. Such research ideally will advance
understanding of the appropriate constructs
and measures to focus on, with consideration of
the age and context of the individual. j
About the Authors
Damon E. Jones and Mark Greenberg are with the Bennett
Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State
University, University Park. Max Crowley is with the
Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University,
Durham, NC.
Correspondence should be sent to Damon Jones, 310
Biobehavioral Health Building, The Pennsylvania State
University. University Park, PA 16802 (e-mail: dej10@
psu.edu). Reprints can be ordered at http://www.ajph.org by
clicking the Reprintslink.
This article was accepted February 10, 2015.
Contributors
D. E. Jones analyzed the data and was primary writer of
the article. M. Greenberg helped plan data analysis and
write the article. M. Crowley helped with analytic
strategy and writing.
Acknowledgments
This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation (grant 70895, Damon E. Jones, principal
investigator).
We are grateful to the Conduct Problems Prevention
Research Group, Karen Bierman, PhD, John Coie, PhD,
Ken Dodge, PhD, John Lochman, PhD, Robert McMahon,
PhD, and Ellen Pinderhughes, PhD, for providing the
data. We also appreciate their feedback on an initial draft
of the article.
Human Participant Protection
The Pennsylvania State University Institutional Review
Board determined that no protocol approval was re-
quired because the study used secondary, de-identied
data.
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