Externalizing problems in childhood and adolescence predict subsequent educational achievement but for different genetic and environmental reasons

Gary Lewis, Kathryn Asbury, Robert Plomin

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Background: Childhood behavior problems predict subsequent educational achievement; however, little research has examined the etiology of these links using a longitudinal twin design. Moreover, it is unknown whether genetic and environmental innovations provide incremental prediction for educational achievement from childhood to adolescence.

Methods: We examined genetic and environmental influences on parental ratings of behavior problems across childhood (age 4) and adolescence (ages 12 and 16) as predictors of educational achievement at age 16 using a longitudinal classical twin design.

Results: Shared-environmental influences on anxiety, conduct problems, and peer problems at age 4 predicted educational achievement at age 16. Genetic influences on the externalizing behaviors of conduct problems and hyperactivity at age 4 predicted educational achievement at age 16. Moreover, novel genetic and (to a lesser extent) nonshared-environmental influences acting on conduct problems and hyperactivity emerged at ages 12 and 16, adding to the genetic prediction from age 4.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that genetic and shared-environmental factors underpinning behavior problems in early childhood predict educational achievement in mid-adolescence. These findings are consistent with the notion that early-childhood behavior problems reflect the initiation of a life-course persistent trajectory with concomitant implications for social attainment. However, we also find evidence that genetic and nonshared-environment innovations acting on behavior problems have implications for subsequent educational achievement, consistent with recent work arguing that adolescence represents a sensitive period for socio-affective development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292–304
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number3
Early online date10 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017

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