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The Long-Lasting Benefits of Childhood Creativity

Creativity is intangible, but has real economic benefits for individuals.

Key points

  • New research shows that childhood creativity predicts economic success in adulthood.
  • Individuals who are more creative at age 7 tend to have higher career earnings and land in better-quality jobs.
  • Childhood creativity also boosts education attainment.
  • Parents and educators can foster creativity in children by encouraging independent thinking and recognizing creative success.
 Rohan lal/Pixabay
Automation is changing the nature of work.
Source: Rohan lal/Pixabay

Technological change increasingly allows routine tasks to be automated. In the workplace, jobs from bookkeeping to manufacturing to farming are disappearing as employers opt for computers and high-tech machines instead of people. The future of work is uncertain.

Success in the workplace increasingly depends on skills that are robust to automation. Much has been written about social skills becoming ever more critical to career success. Drawing on my recent research, I argue that creativity is a key skill in the modern economy, allowing people to flourish despite automation and technological change.

What Is Creativity?

Creativity is the ability to produce ideas that are both novel and valuable. It's underpinned by mental processes such as thinking laterally, reasoning by analogy to new solutions, solving open-ended problems, and employing judgment to evaluate new ideas.

Creativity is a skill that is difficult to replace with computers (at least for the time being!). There is no cookbook on how to be creative. Creativity is often exhibited at an early age and can be nurtured and developed throughout childhood and into adulthood.

 Zee Shutterz/Pixabay
Creative thinking is more than a flash of inspiration.
Source: Zee Shutterz/Pixabay

Can Such an Intangible, Amorphous Skill Pay Off Economically?

The evidence says yes.

Using data from a study that has followed almost every individual born in the United Kingdom in the first week of March 1958 throughout their life, we link schoolteachers' evaluation of their students' creativity at age 7 to the students' later educational attainment and career outcomes.

The measure of creativity we study is quite broad. Rather than trying to pick out the next Steve Jobs, Marie Curie, or Leonardo da Vinci, teachers were asked to rate the children's creativity in everyday tasks, such as freewriting, storytelling, drawing, or dramatic work. The life outcomes we study are similarly broad and include employment rates, earnings, and job quality.

Cutting to the bottom line, creativity in childhood predicts success later in life. Those who tested as more creative children earn more and reach higher levels of education, and tend to work in better-quality jobs that require experience. All this holds true after controlling differences in social background, school characteristics, parental education, and parenting styles.

 Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay
Creativity is fun and rewarding.
Source: Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay

How to Grow Creativity in Childhood

Nurturing creativity can prepare children for an uncertain future. How can we cultivate creative thinking? There are at least five concrete approaches that parents, mentors, coaches, and educators can implement to develop creative thinking in the children in their lives. These suggestions build from a wealth of studies exploring the development of creativity in childhood, and growing literature in economics looks at how to use money and incentives to motivate creativity.

  1. Work on practical skills. Our data show that creative individuals have better practical skills, suggesting that teachers should nurture creativity by cutting back on time spent in "chalk and talk" mode to leave more time for hands-on learning.
  2. Reward creativity. Praise genuinely creative work to convey its importance. Remember, though, that creativity is about doing something novel and valuable, so recognition is most appropriate when children produce something new that could also be beneficial.
  3. Foster independent thinking. Alongside quizzing their children on facts and figures, parents should ask questions with no right or wrong answers to encourage their children to form their own opinions.
  4. Present children with fundamentally new challenges. Introduce problems with solutions that do not follow logically from past lessons to help develop independent thinking and encourage children to connect concepts in novel ways.
  5. Build confidence. Creative ideas that challenge the status quo or accepted wisdom can face criticism or be dismissed, despite their merits. We should mentor children to be confident in the face of resistance or setbacks.

Final Thoughts

Remember, harnessing and practicing the power of creativity is not only fun, therapeutic, and a way of expressing oneself—it also has real economic benefits.

References

Gill D, & Prowse V. (2021) The Creativity Premium. Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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