School “misbehavior” can be lucrative long-run … say, what?

Talk about a potential license to kill …

That was my first thought, but the article reporting a study by a Johns Hopkins prof turned out to be more nuanced than the headline … and, in my opinion, very misleading.



The summary conclusion: some students who misbehave in school learn less (as measured by conventional scoring) but end up earning more over their lifetime.

Here are the details and my take …


The study tracked a large group of individuals born in 1958 in Great Britain.

When these individuals were 11-years-old, the study asked their teachers to fill out a series of inventories describing each child’s behavior in the classroom. The study followed these children into adulthood, collecting information on their educational attainment and employment.

Based on school records, they were classified as well- behaved or misbehaving … and, they were classified based on economic attainment – how much they earned over their lifetime.

Prior studies had reported that students who misbehave in school learn less and attain less economically.

Makes sense, right?

Well, these researchers divided misbehavers into 2 distinct categories.

“External misbehavers” were restless, aggressive, disruptive, etc.

You know, the bad boys and girls.

“Internal misbehavers” were withdrawn, inhibited, non-participatory.

Two different breeds of cat, right?

Guess what happened when the different types of misbehavers were analyzed.

As a group, the internal misbehavers attained less educationally and economically.

My bet: they suffered from low self-confidence that may or may not have been justified … classic wall-flowers who never bloomed.

The external misbehavers attained less educationally (or so said the conventional tests and scoring) but did very well economically.

How can that be?

Remember the old cliché of “coloring between the lines”?

My bet: maybe some of the external misbehavers were classic bad boys, but the group was likely well populated with smart creatives who got bored coloring between the lines and didn’t buy in to a linear-logic academic structure.

Think, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc.

So, don’t let your kids flash the article as justification for smashing lockers or shoving classmates.

There are different flavors of misbehavior.


P.S.  The study also indicated serious differences by economic status.

Among the external misbehavers, students from low income families learned less and earned less.  They didn’t break the cycle of poverty.

Said differently, for rich kids, it’s coloring outside the lines.

For poor kids, it’s braking bad.

Source article


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