Learning good math skills early can add to pay later

A new British study says 10-year-olds who are sharp in math earn a nice chunk more by the time they're in their 30s.

By Bruce Kennedy Mar 11, 2013 3:15PM

Mother helping son with homework © KidStock, Blend Images, Getty ImagesRemember that kid in fifth grade who was always good in math? She might be seeing a bit more income in her paycheck now, thanks to that ability.


A new report published by Britain's Institute for Fiscal Studies says children who have strong math skills at age 10 earn "significantly more" than their contemporaries by the time they're in their 30s.


The study focused on a large group of individuals born in April 1970 and looked at the link between their reading and math scores at age 10 and their earnings at ages 30, 34 and 38.


The researchers found that a 10-year-old who ranks in the top 15% of math scores is likely to earn 7.3% more than a child with mediocre math scores, "even after controlling for the qualifications that they go on to obtain." Those additional earnings, according to the study, come to an extra $3,124 a year.


And while good reading scores are also important, the survey found they're not as lucrative as good math scores. Kids in the top 15% of their reading rankings are likely to earn about 1.9% more annually in their 30s than "an otherwise identical child" whose reading is middling. That equates to about $818 more in annual earnings later on in life.


One of the study's authors says the findings highlight "the importance of investing in skills, particularly math skills, early." And those findings are backed up by another new study, this one funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which says the math skills we learn -- or don't learn -- in first grade are felt well beyond our school years, with impacts not only individually but across the U.S. job market.


"Given the national priority on education in science, technology, engineering and math fields," noted Kathy Mann Koepke, a director at the NIH Institute of Child Health and Human Development, "it is crucial for us to understand how children become adept at math and what interventions can help those who struggle to build these skills."


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