"Our findings suggest that the economic costs of preterm birth are not limited to healthcare and educational support in childhood, but extend well into adulthood," said psychological scientist Dieter Wolke from 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," Wolke noted.
Worldwide 11 percent of infants are born preterm which amounts to around 15 million births per year. For the study, the researchers followed 15,000 participants who were either born in 1958 or 1970. Those participants who were born preterm, which is at less than 37 weeks, were compared to those who were born full-term.
In both of the cohorts, children who were born preterm tended to have lower wealth at age 42 and lower educational qualifications in adulthood than those who were born full-term.
Individuals born preterm were more likely to be manual workers, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to report financial difficulties, and less likely to own a house than those who were born full-term, even after other potential factors were taken into account.
Previous studies have established that brain injury suffered by preterm children is likely to result in cognitive difficulties that may cause learning difficulties resulting in underachievement at school.
As predicted, premature children in this study also tended to demonstrate lower academic abilities in childhood, and for mathematics in particular.
The findings appeared in the journal Psychological Science.