Patience is a key factor linked to educational success and ultimately, the completion of high school, according to new research from Marco Castillo, Jeffrey L. Jordan and Ragan Petrie published in the April 2019 issue of The Economic Journal.
According to the researchers, children who are unwilling to wait for a larger reward, and instead prefer to take a smaller one earlier, are less likely to graduate from high school, or secondary education, five years later. They show that patience is as significant as other factors on educational outcomes, such as behavioural problems or household environment – if not more.
The research focuses on 12-13-year-old pupils in eighth grade classes at four public middle schools (the equivalent of Year 9 in the UK) in a suburban school district in Georgia. Castillo, Jordan and Petrie measure the students’ discount rates, which represents their willingness to trade off smaller, early rewards (such as spending time with friends) for larger, later rewards (like passing classes and graduating). A high discount rate means that they are less willing to wait.
The authors ask the children to make a choice between receiving a fixed amount of money in one month and a larger amount of money in seven months. They then test whether the discount rates predict whether they will graduate on-time five years later.
The results show that a more impatient child is significantly less likely to graduate from high school, even controlling for other factors such as academic achievement, or behavioural problems. They also find that the difference in graduation rates between the most impatient and most patient child is at least 8 percentage points. With the national dropout rate being 15 percentage points, patience represents about half of that.
The findings provide evidence that patience is linked to educational success and complements recent research on educational interventions that show promising evidence of early interventions on developing non-cognitive skills like persistence and resilience.
“Discount rates of children and high school graduation” by Marco Castillo, Jeffrey L. Jordan and Ragan Petrie is published in the April 2019 issue of The Economic Journal.
Professor in Agricultural & Applied Economics at the University of Georgia
Professor in Economics at Texas A&M University