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'As Ye Sweep, So Shall Ye Reap'

Having a tidy, clean room as a child may have a positive effect on one's entire life, according to a research study conducted by Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and research associates at Northwestern University and University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. The study will be published in the American Economic Review. "What motivated us to do this analysis in the first place is that we're really interested in predictors of adult success and we're interested in looking at non-school or achievement related predictors," said Brooks-Gunn. "We hypothesized," Brooks-Gunn added, "that cleanliness or tidiness of the house would be a proxy for some non-academic oriented skills, including things like conscientiousness, perseverance, and possibly, efficacy. We were also trying to demonstrate to economic audiences that non-cognitive skills can be measured." The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Science Foundation, and the Institute for Child Health and Human Development, was an analysis of research conducted over the past 30 years. For five years beginning in 1968, researchers made yearly visits to 3,000 homes and rated their cleanliness on a five point scale. A score of five was considered "very clean" and a score of one considered "dirty." Twenty-five years later, the researchers, Rachel Duniforn of Michigan, Greg J. Duncan of Northwestern and Brooks-Gunn assessed the educational attainment and earnings of the young adults who grew up in those homes. After controlling for parental education, income, and many other factors, they found that young adults who grew up in homes rated clean to very clean had completed 13.6 years of school compared with 12 years for those whose childhood homes were rated as not very clean to dirty. Their wages reflected the same pattern, with those growing up in the cleanest homes averaging $14.17 an hour compared with $12.60 an hour for those raised in the least clean homes. For a 40-hour-week, that adds up to about $3,100 more a year. Brooks-Gunn said that there were several conclusions that could be drawn from the study. "In terms of looking at people's lives and wages, there is more to predicting adults' success than just looking at school achievement," she said. Other factors she mentioned that were important were social, motivational skills and family-level variables. Additionally, she added, another conclusion was that "there is more to the home than just providing stimulating learning experiences." "It is not the clean or tidy house per se, but possibly the organizational skills or the organization of the household and beliefs about conscientiousness and organization that are transmitted from parent to child. It has something to do with how ordered or structured you, as an adult, try to run your life and that kind of behavior is something that does carry forward in terms of adult success. In our study it seems to be related to intergenerational success as well, over and above education," she added. Brooks-Gunn said her hope was that interventions could be developed to help families feel more efficacious, if the perception is that a lack of a feeling of efficacy is hampering the development of the child. "For those of us who do prevention and intervention work, this study suggests that we need to focus on home environment for teenagers as well as think about what programs might be useful to parentsÑwhether it's coping and stress management or organizational skills." Page last updated: August 2001previous page