Writing in the journal Psychological Science, researchers said childhood abilities in math and reading predict adult socioeconomic status better than associations with intelligence, education and beginning childhood socioeconomic status.
Psychological scientists Stuart Ritchie and Timothy Bates of the University of Edinburgh wanted to investigate whether early math and reading skills could have effects that last far beyond school years.
"We wanted to test whether being better at math or reading in childhood would be linked with a rise through the social ranks: a better job, better housing and higher income as an adult," they said.
They analyzed data from the National Child Development Study that followed more than 17,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales from when they were born in 1958 through present day.
The researchers found participants' reading and math ability at age 7 were linked to their social class a full 35 years later, resulting in higher incomes, better housing and better jobs in adulthood.
"These findings imply that basic childhood skills, independent of how smart you are, how long you stay in school, or the social class you started off in, will be important throughout your life," Ritchie and Bates wrote.