Becker Friedman Institute

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A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety

Policy-makers are considering large-scale programs aimed at self-control to improve citizens’ health and wealth and reduce crime. Experimental and economic studies suggest such programs could reap benefits. Yet, is self-control important for the health, wealth, and public safety of the population? Following a cohort of 1,000 children from birth to the age of 32 y, we show that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes, following a gradient of self-control. Effects of children's self-control could be disentangled from their intelligence and social class as well as from mistakes they made as adolescents. In another cohort of 500 sibling-pairs, the sibling with lower self-control had poorer outcomes, despite shared family background. Interventions addressing self-control might reduce a panoply of societal costs, save taxpayers money, and promote prosperity.

Authors: 
Terrie E. Moffitt, Duke University / King's College London
Louise Arseneault
Daniel Belsky, Duke University
Nigel Dickson, Duke University
Robert J. Hancox, Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit
HonaLee Harrington, Duke University
Renate Houts, Duke University
Richie Poulton, Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit
Brent Roberts, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Stephen L. Ross, University of Connecticut
Malcom Sears, McMaster University
W. Murray Thomson
Avshalom Caspi, Duke University
Publication Date: 
February, 2011
Publication Type: 
Journal: 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume: 
108
Issue Number: 
7
Pages: 
2693-2698