Preterm birth and adult wealth: mathematics skills count

Each year, 15 million babies are born preterm worldwide. Preterm birth is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes across the lifespan. Recent registry-based studies suggest that preterm birth is associated with lower wealth in adulthood, but the mediating mechanisms are unknown. This study investigated whether the relationship between preterm birth and low adult wealth is mediated by poor academic abilities and educational qualifications. Participants were members of two British population-based birth cohorts born in 1958 and 1970. Results showed that preterm birth was associated with decreased wealth at 42 years of age. This association was mediated by poorer intelligence, reading and, in particular, mathematics attainment in middle childhood, and lower educational qualifications in young adulthood. Findings were similar in both cohorts, suggesting that these mechanisms may be time invariant. Special educational support in childhood may prevent preterm children from becoming less wealthy as adults.