Not in education, employment and training: pathways from toddler difficult temperament

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Background: Youths disengaged from the education system and labour force (i.e. “Not in Education, Employment, or Training” or “NEET”) are often at reduced capacity to flourish and thrive as adults. Developmental precursors to NEET status may extend back to temperamental features, though this — and possible mediators of such associations such as attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) symptoms and antisocial behaviours (ASB) — have yet to be directly tested. The present study investigates if i) difficult temperament in toddlerhood associates with NEET status in adulthood, and ii) different subdomains of ADHD (i.e. hyperactivity-impulsivity vs inattention) in late childhood and ASB in adolescence partially explain this pathway.
Methods: Participants were 6240 mother-child dyads (60.7% female) from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Mothers reported on their child’s i) difficult temperament (i.e. mood, intensity, and adaptability) at age 2, and ii) ADHD symptoms at ages 8 and 10. Participants reported their own ASB at age 14 and NEET status in adulthood (ages 18, 20, 22, and 23).
Results: First, higher levels of difficult temperament in toddlerhood directly associated with an increased probability of being NEET in adulthood. Second, this effect was carried through hyperactivity-impulsivity, but not inattention, in late childhood, and ASB in adolescence; this demonstrates differential contribution to the pathway between the ADHD dimensions, with symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity playing a prominent role.
Conclusion: Early difficult temperament is a vulnerability factor for NEET status in adulthood. Our findings suggest that one developmental pathway for this vulnerability manifests through increased hyperactivity-impulsivity in childhood and ASB in adolescence. Of note, difficult temperament, as measured here, reflects difficulties in emotional and behavioural self-control (e.g. low adaptability and high intensity negative emotional expressions). Our results, therefore, suggest a prominent developmental role for lack of self-control from toddlerhood onwards in increasing risk for NEET.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Early online date4 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2021


  • Difficult temperament
  • NEET
  • ADHD
  • Antisocial behaviours


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