Antisocial behavior in childhood is a major predictor of how much an individual will cost society.
That’s the conclusion of a study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2001. It found that by age 28, individuals who as children had conduct disorder—kiddie sociopaths—cost public agencies 10 times more in services than children who did not have behavior problems.
The study, Financial cost of social exclusion: follow up study of antisocial children into adulthood, by Stephen Scott, Martin Knapp, Juliet Henderson and Barbara Maughan (2001), measured the costs of crime, special education services, foster and residential care, state benefits and health care. It was based on a previous study that followed 2,281 children from London. The children were divided into those with no behavior problems, those with behavior problems who were not diagnosed as having conduct disorder, and those with conduct disorder.
The study authors found that a diagnosis of conduct disorder in children was the best predictor of later costs to public services. Behaviors typically associated with conduct disorder include disobedience, tantrums, fighting, destructiveness, lying and stealing. The study noted, “40 percent of 8-year-olds with conduct disorder are repeatedly convicted of crimes such as theft, vandalism, and assault in adolescence.”
High costs to public services
And what were the costs? The study calculated them in British pounds at 1998 prices. The U.S. dollar figures are based on today’s exchange rate.
Mean individual costs to public services
Individuals with no problems — 7,423 pounds (US$14,478)
Individuals with conduct problems — 24,234 pounds (US$47,266)
Individuals with conduct disorder — 70,019 pounds (US$136,565)
Higher costs to society
Another study, The monetary value of saving a high-risk youth, by Mark A. Cohen (1998), created a broader estimate of how much individuals who engage in antisocial behavior cost society.
The study measured “external costs,” defined as an action taken by one person that negatively affects another person. “For example,” Cohen says, “the ‘external’ costs associated with a violent armed robbery include stolen property, medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering endured by the victim.” Here is what Cohen found:
External costs to society
Typical career criminal—$1.3 to $1.5 million
Heavy drug user—$370,000 to $970,000
High school dropout—$243,000 to $388,000
Cohen also estimated other costs that antisocial behavior inflicts upon society. His purpose was to develop a cost-benefit analysis of programs that targeted high-risk youths. He concluded that the potential monetary value of saving a high-risk youth was $1.7 to $2.3 million.
Can we save them?
Both studies pointed out that childhood and youth intervention could produce significant cost savings for society. But as Dr. Liane Leedom can attest, when children have genetic predispositions to sociopathy, this is extremely difficult to accomplish. I hope we, as a society, can figure out a way to save them.