General IQ, rather than specific math abilities, may be a more reliable indicator of adult financial success for children who were born very preterm or with a very low birth weight, according to a new study at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
The findings contrast with previous research suggesting the specific importance of math skills for economic achievement.
“Considering preterm and low-birthweight individuals’ multiple neurocognitive difficulties, our results suggest that IQ is a more significant predictor of adult wealth than the ability to solve specific math problems,” said Julia Jaekel, associate professor of child and family studies, who coauthored the study with Nicole Baumann and Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick and Peter Bartmann from the University of Bonn.
The researchers tracked more than 400 children born in Bavaria, Germany, from birth through adulthood. Of the children in the study, 193 were born very preterm (under 32 weeks gestation) or with very low birth weight (less than 3.3 pounds), and 217 were healthy term babies.
Using standardized tests, psychologists assessed general intelligence and specific math skills of the children at eight years old. When the subjects were 26 years old, information on their income, social benefits, educational qualifications and career success was summarized into a comprehensive wealth index.
The team then investigated whether math abilities or IQ explained the negative consequences of very premature birth on adult wealth. They concluded that IQ was a better predictor of life-course economic success.
The findings help researchers better understand the long-term outcomes of children who are born very preterm. Since many children with cognitive problems attend mainstream schools, the study also provides an opportunity to develop strategies for ensuring that these kids receive the best support for their learning progress.
“No matter whether their difficulties are global or specific, many very preterm and very low birthweight individuals require continued educational support in order to succeed in school and life,” said Dieter Wolke, a professor of psychology at the University of Warwick.
“Our findings can inform the design of follow-up and intervention services to reduce the burden of prematurity for those individuals who were born at highest neonatal risk.”
The study, titled “General Cognitive but Not Mathematic Abilities Predict Very Preterm and Healthy Term Born Adults’ Wealth,” published in the journal PLOS ONE.