Childhood self-control and adult outcomes: results from a 30-year longitudinal study

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Jul;52(7):709-717.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.04.008. Epub 2013 May 25.


Objective: A study by Moffitt et al. reported pervasive associations between childhood self-control and adult outcomes. The current study attempts to replicate the findings reported by Moffitt et al., adjusting these results for the confounding influence of childhood conduct problems.

Method: Data were gathered from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a longitudinal birth cohort studied to age 30 years. Self-control during ages 6 to 12 years was measured analogously to that in Moffitt et al., using parent-, teacher-, and self-report methods. Outcome measures to age 30 included criminal offending, substance use, education/employment, sexual behavior, and mental health. Associations between self-control and outcomes were adjusted for possible confounding by gender, socioeconomic status (SES), IQ, and childhood conduct problems (ages 6-10).

Results: In confirmation of the findings of Moffitt et al., all outcomes except major depression were significantly (p < .05) associated with childhood self-control. Adjustment for gender, SES, and IQ reduced to some extent the magnitude of the associations. However, adjustment for childhood conduct disorder further reduced the magnitude of many of these associations, with only 4 of the 14 outcomes remaining statistically significantly (p < .05) associated with self-control. After adjustment for gender, SES, IQ, and conduct problems, those individuals who scored higher in self-control had lower odds of violent offending and welfare dependence, were more likely to have obtained a university degree, and had higher income levels.

Conclusions: The findings from this study suggest that observed linkages between a measure of childhood self-control and outcomes in adulthood were largely explained by the correlated effects of childhood conduct problems, SES, IQ, and gender.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Conduct Disorder / epidemiology
  • Conduct Disorder / psychology*
  • Ego*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult