The study led by Avshalom Caspi of Duke University and colleagues followed 1,000 children from birth to age 32 in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Self-control was assessed by several measures including lack of control, impulsive aggression, hyperactivity, lack of persistence, inattention and impulsivity. The children were evaluated every two years from ages three to 11 to create a combined overall self-control measurement.
Researchers gathered data on the participants' health, wealth, family and criminal status when the participants reached age 32, then looked for correlations between the self-control score and these outcomes, correcting, for I.Q. and socioeconomic status.
"Children with low self-control tended to make mistakes while they were adolescents, including starting to smoke tobacco, becoming a teen parent of an unplanned baby and leaving secondary school with no qualification," the researchers added in a summary of their work.
But even those who avoided such outcomes had poorer scores on other factors as adults, they noted.