ADHD is really bad for future earnings and employment

Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the pile of papers and other things I want to get to, I admit I will not read all of the recent paper by Jason Fletcher on labor market outcomes for people diagnosed with ADHD as kids. But it does look interesting. So, if you read it, let me know what you think. Here’s the abstract:

Although several types of mental illness, including substance abuse disorders, have been linked with poor labor market outcomes, no current research has been able to examine the effects of childhood attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Because ADHD has become one of the most prevalent childhood mental conditions, it is useful to understand the full set of consequences of the illness. This article uses a longitudinal national sample, including sibling pairs, to show the important labor market outcome consequences of ADHD. The employment reduction is between 10 and 14 percentage points, the earnings reduction is approximately 33%, and the increase in social assistance is 15 points, figures that are larger than many estimates of the Black people/White people earnings gap and the gender earnings gap. A small share of the link is explained by educational attainments and co-morbid health conditions and behaviors. The results also show important differences in labor market consequences by family background and age of onset. These findings, along with similar research showing that ADHD is linked with poor education outcomes and adult crime, suggest the importance of treating childhood ADHD to foster human capital.

Needless to say, these are huge effects. It makes me wonder whether, to the extent it is over-diagnosed, ADHD is serving as a proxy for characteristics predictive of poor labor market outcomes. That is, Johnny is looking like he’s not succeeding in school (itself suggesting reduced earnings and employment potential), but maybe an ADHD diagnosis and the associated meds will help him. But maybe they actually don’t help much. Alternatively, maybe there is a self-fulfilling stigma to the diagnosis. Of course the straight-forward interpretation that ADHD is legitimately bad for your future is perfectly fine. It could also be all these things!

Again, I haven’t read much of the paper. Maybe some of this speculation is addressed therein. Maybe the author will write me and set me straight. Maybe I should go to bed. That’s the best idea of them all. Good night!


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