If you want to earn more, study maths

A study from the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions has shown the importance of maths and reading skills for earnings later in life.

The authors used data from the British Cohort Study to compare reading and maths skills for children at age 10 with their earnings at age 30, 34, and 38. They found that, controlling for background factors such as parents’ income, a 1 standard deviation increase in maths (equivalent to moving from an average score to being in the top 15%) raised weekly earnings by 13%. A similar increase in reading scores raised income by around 10%. In both cases, much of the impact was due to pupils with higher maths and reading scores obtaining higher qualifications.

The study highlights both the importance of maths and reading skills, but also the difficulty of making substantive changes to outcomes for pupils. A difference of 1 standard deviation (an effect size of 1) is a challenging improvement to make, given that interventions that have an effect size of +0.2 in education are considered effective. The authors do not look at whether the effect was consistent across the ability range; it would be interesting to know if the effect was more dramatic for the bottom 10% of pupils, for example. Also, the study only looked at employed people. Reading and maths skills are also known to affect unemployment, of course.

Source: Reading and Maths Skills at Age 10 and Earnings in Later Life: A Brief Analysis Using the British Cohort Study (2013), Department for Education.