Adults who were born preterm tend to have less education and wealth, a new study suggests.
“Our findings suggest that the economic costs of preterm birth are not limited to health care and educational support in childhood, but extend well into adulthood,” said study author Dieter Wolke, a psychological scientist at the University of Warwick in England.
“Together, these results suggest that the effects of prematurity via academic performance on wealth are long-term, lasting into the fifth decade of life,” he added.
To reach that conclusion, the research team analyzed data from more than 15,000 people born in Great Britain in 1958 and 1970. At age 42, those who were born preterm (less than 37 weeks’ gestation) had lower levels of schooling, were more likely to have manual labor jobs, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have money problems and less likely to own a house than those who were born full-term, the findings showed.
Many people who were born preterm had poor math skills, something that may help explain their financial struggles, according to the study published online recently in the journal Psychological Science.
“What is perhaps most surprising is that most of the children we studied were not very preterm — born, on average, only five weeks early — and still we find these long-lasting effects,” study co-author and psychological scientist Maartje Basten, said in a journal news release.
The study authors said they took into account factors that might influence outcomes in childhood and adulthood, such as birth weight, mothers’ prenatal health, and parental education and social class.
However, while the study found an association between premature birth and education and wealth at age 42, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The researchers noted that preterm births are on the rise.
“Our previous research has shown that teachers and educational psychologists receive no training on needs of preterm children. They have little knowledge of the specific difficulties that preterm children have with learning and attention,” Wolke said.
“Providing this knowledge and developing appropriate interventions could make a big difference for many preterm children and improve their life chances,” he concluded.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about preterm birth.