Hard-Headed Economists Go Soft!

“The ultimate purpose of economics, of course, is to understand and promote the enhancement of wellbeing”. You may be surprised to learn these words are from the chairman of the US Federal Reserve in 2012.

Apparently economics has been soft right back to Adam Smith! And here we were thinking it was about banks making squillions and the uber-rich paying their tax in Panama.

In news sure to upset those who think that ‘the dismal science’ of economics is narrowly focused on arcane measures of dubious reliability based on an inadequate model of how humans behave, some researchers from the London School of Economics have been wondering about what makes for a woolly thing like adult life satisfaction. Specifically, they wonder about which childhood predictors make a difference.

Seriously, the question matters – what makes for adult wellbeing? Every parent/carer wants to see their child flourish and turn into a happy adult.

So, which of these factors in childhood make the most difference to adult life satisfaction according to their research? 1. Intellectual development? 2. Conduct (destroying things, fighting, stealing, disobedience, lying, bullying, being disliked and unsettled and impulsive behaviour)? 3. Emotional health (worry, unhappiness, sleeplessness, eating disorder, bedwetting, fearfulness, school avoidance, tiredness, and psychosomatic pains)?

Bingo if you said childhood emotional health (followed by childhood conduct, then by intellectual development).

Emotional health in childhood had more than twice the impact of any other factor on this question: “How dissatisfied or satisfied are you about the way your life has turned out so far?”

Not that the other factors are unimportant. Economic outcomes (income, unemployment, educational achievement) are most impacted by intellectual development and socio-economic background.

If the variable of interest is social outcomes (criminality and family formation), then child conduct matters most.

The lesson is that emotional health in childhood has a significant impact on adult life satisfaction. Of course it matters right now too. Our efforts to promote good emotional health can make a long-term difference.

Information about counselling both in and out of school is available at the beginning of the "Counsellor's Corner Blog" page.


Martin Graham

School Counsellor