Being born prematurely could be linked to earning less in adulthood.

In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers have identified a connection between premature birth and lower reading, intelligence and math ability — highlighting that this affects how much a baby could earn as an adult.

"This study is of importance because it could be used to flag up the need for extra support at school for children who are born pre-term," said Dieter Wolke, head researcher for the study.

The researchers used data from two large, longitudinal studies: the British Cohort Study, which followed children born in a single week in 1970 and the National Child Development Study, which followed children born in a single week in 1958. Altogether, there were over 15,000 participants, all of whom were born in Wales, Scotland. Participants born prematurely (before 37 weeks) were compared to those who were born full-term.

Based on the results of this study, the researchers found that both cohorts showed that a child's math ability had a direct effect on his or her earning capacity as an adult, barring later qualifications in education.

There were inequalities in terms of employment and wealth, with the 1970 cohort revealing that 32.5 percent of prematurely born adults ended up as manual workers, 3.3 percent unemployed and 57.6 percent earned below-average family income. The figures were higher for those born full-term, with just 25 percent representing manual workers, 2.5 percent unemployed and 49.1 percent earning below-average family income.

Earlier research has established that injuries to the brain sustained by prematurely born children are likely to lead to cognitive difficulties that may make it difficult to learn, resulting in underachievement in school.

Around the world today, 11 percent of infants are born prematurely, translating to about 15 million births every year. More and more babies are being born prematurely, too. Children born before 37 weeks represented 7.2 percent of births in 1990 — a number that jumped to 8.6 percent in 2010. Premature birth can be caused by a number of factors and it has been associated with adverse psychological and developmental outcomes.

Other authors of the study include Camilla Gilmore, Samantha Johnson, Julia Jaekel, and Maartje Basten. The study received funding support from the Nuffield Foundation.

Photo: Ginny Washburne | Flickr

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