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“Why Can’t you sit Still?:” Hyperactivity and Schooling outcomes for Canadian Brothers and Sisters. Kelly Chen, Nicole Fortin, Philip Oreopoulos and Shelley Phipps.

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why can t you sit still hyperactivity and schooling outcomes for canadian brothers and sisters

“Why Can’t you sit Still?:” Hyperactivity and Schooling outcomes for Canadian Brothers and Sisters

Kelly Chen, Nicole Fortin, Philip Oreopoulos and Shelley Phipps


This research is being conducted as part of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Programme on Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being

  • We thank CIFAR for funding support and Heather Hobson of the Atlantic Research Data Centre for vetting our output
  • Young women now constitute the majority of undergraduates on most Canadian campuses
  • Young women have caught up with and surpassed young men in terms of educational attainment
    • In 2008, 36.5 percent of Canadian women aged 25 to 29 had a university degree compared to 24.1 percent of young men (Drolet, 2011)
research questions
Research Questions
  • What are the roots of this phenomenon?
  • Are gender differences in educational outcomes apparent from the beginning?
  • If gender differences already evident for young children, why is this so?
  • Could a greater tendency to hyperactivity for boys be part of the story?
conceptualizing educational outcomes
Conceptualizing “Educational Outcomes”
  • Test scores important, not the full story
  • Also important is the development of an identity as a student (Akerlof and Kranton, 2000; 2010)
    • Attitudes toward school?
    • Liking for school?
    • Aspirations?
a role for hyperactivity
A role for hyperactivity?
  • Children with ADHD have lower test scores and are more likely to repeat a grade at school (Currie and Stabile, 2006)
  • Epidemiological literature clear that boys are more hyperactive than girls

More hyperactive children may find it harder to be the “ideal student;” to fit in nicely with the social environment of the classroom

  • They may find it harder to sit still and concentrate
  • They may get in trouble more, do less well, be less motivated
hasn t this always been true
Hasn’t this always been true?
  • Trend data on ADHD surprisingly limited, but some evidence of increases in ADHD (Perrin et al., 2007)
  • Norms/expectations of young school children may have changed
    • School environments less accepting of ‘boisterous’ behaviour (cuts to physical education, no ‘rough-housing’ on the playground)?
    • Serious work (reading) started younger?
  • If so, long-standing gender differences in hyperactivity levels may have become more problematic

*** not necessarily only clinical levels of hyperactivity that are important

  • Currie and Stabile, 2006 find parent reports of hyperactivity are associated with lower test scores well below clinical thresholds
research strategy
Research Strategy
  • Test for gender differences in test scores plus parent assessments of over-all achievement and motivation for Canadian children aged 6 through 11
  • Use sibling difference models (to control for family background)
  • Include index of parent-reported hyperactive symptoms to test hypothesis that hyperactivity of boys helps explain gender differences
  • Statistics Canada National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, 1994 through 2006 (every two years)
  • Pool sibling pairs from all available cycles, 6 through 11 years, each pair randomly selected once
  • Parent (person most knowledgeable) provides all information used here (except math test scores)
parent s assessment of child s liking for school
Parent’s Assessment of Child’s Liking for School
  • Question: “With regard to how he/she feels about school, how often does he/she look forward to going to school?”
    • Almost never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, Almost Always
parent s assessment of child s over all school performance
Parent’s Assessment of Child’s Over-all School Performance
  • Question: “Based on your knowledge of his schoolwork, including his/her report cards, How is he doing overall?”
    • Very poorly, poorly, Average, Well, Very well
parental expectations for child s future education
Parental Expectations for Child’s Future Education
  • Question: “How far do you hope this child will go in school?”
    • High School or Less
    • Some Post-Secondary
    • University
hyperactivity index
Hyperactivity Index
  • “How often would say this child . . .”
    • “Can’t sit still or is restless?”
    • “Is easily distracted, has trouble sticking to any activity”
    • “Can’t concentrate, can’t pay attention for long?”
    • “Is impulsive, acts without thinking?”
    • “Has difficulty waiting for his turn in games or groups?
    • “Cannot settle to anything for more than a few minutes”
    • “ Is inattentive?”

1= Never or not true; 2= Sometimes or somewhat true; 3= Often or very true

construction of score
Construction of Score
  • Add for all items
  • Score ranges from 0 to 14, with high score indicating highest level of hyperactivity
  • Mean for sample = 4
  • Children ‘on ritalin’ have mean score = 9.4
estimation sibling fixed effects models
Estimation. Sibling Fixed Effects Models
  • To control for permanent, unobservable differences in family background
  • Yif = a + b1BOYif + b2HYPERif + λf + gXif + eif
  • Xifincludes only variables that differ between siblings (e.g., age in months, ‘older child,’ health status and cycle)
sensitivity analyses
Sensitivity Analyses
  • Use parent report of ‘on ritalin’ rather than hyperactivity score (1.1% of girls; 4.1% of boys)
  • Use dummy indicator of ‘top decile’ of hyperactivity score
  • Both highly statistically significant themselves but have less impact on estimated size of ‘boy’ coefficient than full score, suggesting it isn’t just ‘clinical’ hyperactivity than helps explain the gender difference
  • Using parent reports, boys like school less (brothers like school less well than sisters); boys perform less well; boys are not expected to complete as high levels of education
  • Hyperactivity scores are negatively associated with these outcomes
  • When hyperactivity is included as a regressor in sibling fixed effects, the size of ‘boy’ coefficient falls