Preterm birth linked with lower math abilities, less wealth
People who are born premature tend to accumulate less wealth as adults, and a new study suggests that this may be due to lower mathematics abilities. The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that preterm birth is associated with lower academic abilities in childhood, and lower educational attainment and less wealth in adulthood.
“Our findings suggest that the economic costs of preterm birth are not limited to healthcare and educational support in childhood, but extend well into adulthood,” says psychological scientist Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick in the UK. “Together, these results suggest that the effects of prematurity via academic performance on wealth are long term, lasting into the fifth decade of life.”
For the study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the researchers examined data from two large, longitudinal studies: the National Child Development Study and the British Cohort Study. Both of the studies recruited all children born in a single week in England, Scotland, and Wales, and researchers have followed up these children through to adulthood.
Importantly, the studies follow individuals born more than a decade apart: the National Child Development Study follows children born in 1958 and the British Cohort Study follows children born in 1970.
Wolke and colleagues specifically examined data for all individuals in the studies who were born at between 28 and 42 weeks gestational age and who had available wealth information at age 42, yielding a total sample of over 15,000 participants.
To measure adult wealth, the researchers looked at a combination of participants’ family income and social class, their housing and employment status, and their own perceptions of their financial situation. To gauge participants’ academic abilities, they examined a combination of validated measures for mathematics, reading, and intelligence, combined with ratings from teachers and parents.
The researchers also accounted for several variables that might otherwise influence outcomes in childhood and adulthood, including birth weight, maternal prenatal health, and parental education and social class.
The results were revealing: In both of the cohorts, children who were born preterm tended to have lower wealth at age 42 and lower educational qualifications in adulthood than those who were born full-term.