Does elementary school math affect how much money you'll make?

The Message for Parents and Educators

If the research proves that 7-year-olds who can read well and do simple math become adults with better jobs and bigger homes, then what is the message for parents and educators? What makes some kids better readers and mathematicians than their peers?

One possible answer is that they were simply born that way. Genetics plays a significant role in determining academic achievements. That's why Ritchie and Bates, the authors of the Psychological Science paper, are conducting a follow-up study of identical twins. By comparing the academic success of two people with the same DNA, the researchers can isolate the impact of nature versus nurture [source: Mikulak].

Family income level is another big factor. According to data from the 18,000-person U.K. survey, there is a significant correlation between a child's socioeconomic status at birth and his or her math and reading skills at age 7. Makes sense that families with more money might send their children to better schools or be able to hire tutors to improve skills.

That's good news for rich folks, but what about the rest of us? Luckily, love and attention also go a long way. A study from the Harvard Family Research Project found that parental influence greatly affected early childhood school performance. Factors included a home environment conducive to cognitive stimulation, parental involvement at school and parental involvement in extracurricular activities [source: Lin].

For educators, Ritchie and Bates' findings support the idea of strong common standards across private and public schools. With this data in hand, educators can see the long-term positive effects when even the youngest kids are taught to read and do math at a high level.

Author's Note: Does elementary school math affect how much money you'll make?

I want to thank Stuart Ritchie at the University of Edinburgh for taking time to answer my questions and clarify his findings. At first, I didn't understand the big deal about his and Timothy Bates' conclusion that early childhood academic achievement pointed to financial success later in life. It seemed pretty obvious, right? If a kid comes from an advantaged background — educated parents, a safe and stimulating home environment — he or she is more likely to do better in school, get into a better college, get a better job and earn a better salary. But Ritchie made it clear that the correlation between first-grade reading and math skills and later success was wholly independent of things like parent education level or even the kid's IQ. The surprising message is you don't have to be born rich or hyper intelligent to achieve a high socioeconomic standing. If you master the basics at an early age, you will be on track to succeed in school and in your career. That gives me hope as a parent, and reason enough to get out those multiplication table flash cards.

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  • Dubow, Eric; Boxer, Paul; and Huesmann, Rowell. "Long-term Effects of Parents' Education on Children's Educational and Occupational Success: Mediation by Family Interactions, Child Aggression, and Teenage Aspirations." Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. July 2009. (May 16, 2013)
  • Ganzach, Yoav. "A dynamic analysis of the effects of intelligence and socioeconomic background on job-market success." Intelligence. March-April 2012. (May 16, 2013)
  • Lin, Qiuyun. "Parent Involvement and Early Literacy." Harvard Family Research Project. Oct. 2003. (May 16, 2013)
  • Mikulak, Anna. "Early Math and Reading Ability Linked to Job and Income in Adulthood." Association for Psychological Science. May 8, 2013. (May 16, 2013)
  • Ritchie, Stuart., PhD. candidate, Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, e-mail interview (May 14, 2013).
  • Ritchie, Stuart J. and Bates, Timothy C. "Enduring Links from Childhood Mathematics and Reading Achievement to Adult Socioeconomic Success." Psychological Science. May 2013. (May 16, 2013)