The researchers explored these relationships using data from the National Child Development Study, a large, nationally representative study that followed over 17,000 people in England, Scotland, and Wales over a span of about 50 years, from when they were born in 1958 to present day.
The data revealed that childhood reading and math skills really do matter.
Ritchie and Bates found that participants’ reading and math ability at age 7 were linked to their social class a full 35 years later. Participants who had higher reading and math skills as children ended up having higher incomes, better housing, and better jobs in adulthood.
The data suggest, for example, that going up one reading level at age 7 was associated with a £5,000, or roughly $7,750, increase in income at age 42.
The long-term associations held even after the researchers took other common factors into account.
“These findings imply that basic childhood skills, independent of how smart you are, how long you stay in school, or the social class you started off in, will be important throughout your life,” say Ritchie and Bates.