The fifth of the population responsible for 80 per cent of social costs, including crime, benefits and healthcare can be identified as young as three years old, a new study shows.
The same 20% of people account for 77% of kids brought up without a dad, consume three quarters of drug prescriptions and take in two thirds of all welfare benefits.
Researchers also found that this section of society smoke more than half of all cigarettes, carry 40 percent of the kilograms of obese weight and file more than a third (36%) of personal-injury insurance claims.
The group also accounted for more than half of all nights spent in hospital.
Scientists sought to test out the so-called “Pareto principle” which suggests 80 percent of wealth is controlled by 20 percent of the population.
A team of scientists conducted detailed analysis of nearly a thousand people from birth to 38-years-old.
They found that just 20 per cent of the population were the most socially “costly” in terms of crime, welfare and health.
The researchers, from King’s College London, Duke University, North Carolina, and the University of Otago, New Zealand, also found they could predict which adults were likely to be part of the group, as early as the age of three.
This suggests early interventions could be made in the future to avoid social costs.
Study author Professor Avshalom Caspi, from Duke University, said: “Most expenses from social problems are concentrated in a small segment of the population.
“So whatever segment of the health, social or judicial system that you look at, we find a concentration.
“And that concentration approximates what Vilfredo Pareto anticipated over 100 years ago.
“We called the group ‘high-needs/high-costs’.”
The participants observed all came from the Dunedin Study, a database of people based in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Study author Professor Terrie Moffitt, from Duke University, said: “The digitisation of people’s lives allows us to quantify precisely how much a person costs society and which people are using multiple different costly health and social services.
“Apparently, the same few clients use the courts, welfare benefits, disability services, children’s services, and the health-care system. These systems could be more joined up.”
At age three, each child in the study had participated in short examinations of neurological signs including intelligence, language and motor skills.
The examiners also rated the children on factors such as restlessness, impulsiveness and how they dealt with frustration.
They then used this information to form an index called “brain health”.
The study revealed kids with low scores on the brain health index at the age of three, often needed more healthcare and were more likely to commit crimes as adults.
Professor Caspi said: “We can predict this quite well, beginning at age three by assessing a child’s history of disadvantage, and particularly their brain health.”
Commenting on the findings, Rena Subotnik, director of the Centre for Psychology in Schools and Education for the American Psychological Association, said: “These are all traits that can be controlled and improved upon with the proper interventions, so identifying them in young children is a gift.”
The researchers stressed that this ability to identify and predict a person’s life course should be used to intervene, not discriminate.
Professor Moffitt said: “Any time you identify a population segment, the next thing people do is stigmatise.
“But being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories.
“This study really gives a pretty clear picture of what happens if you don’t intervene.”
Professor Caspi added: “There is a really powerful connection from children’s early beginnings to where they end up.
“The purpose of this was not to use these data to complicate children’s lives any further.
“It’s to say these children need a lot of resources, and helping them could yield a remarkable return on investment when they grow up.”