Time to further complicate the nature-versus-nurture debate…
A new study published today in Pediatrics suggests that academic achievement and brain development are directly tied to gestational time — how long a kid is in the womb.
What’s unique about this study, which tracked 128,050 New York City births, is that researchers examined standardized test scores of 8-year-olds born within a normal age range — rather than comparing them to premature children.
What it found: “Analyses revealed that gestational age within the normal term range [37-41 weeks] was significantly and positively related to reading and math scores in third grade, with achievement scores for children born at 37 and 38 weeks significantly lower than those for children born at 39, 40, or 41 weeks.”
But what about other variables — such as birth weight, whether the mother smokes, and socioeconomic factors — you might ask?
Well, the researchers figured that into their calculations too, and found that it really didn’t matter: There was still a measurable difference in reading and math ability.
As the Daily News notes, 2.3 percent of kids born at 37 weeks had “severely poor reading skills and 1.1 percent had at least moderate problems in math.”
Only 1.8 percent of kids born four weeks later had these reading problems, and .9 percent had problems in math.
And: “Children born at 37 weeks were also a third more likely to have severe reading difficulty in third grade, and a 19 percent greater chance of having moderate problems in math, compared with 41-weekers.”
Of course, these findings will surely raise a few eyebrows: not only does it prompt questions about the medical definition of prematurity — it also prompts questions about the relationship between early Caesarean sections and infant health.