Breastfeeding could influence income in adulthood, research suggests

By Julie Griffiths on 16 October 2018 Infant Feeding Breastfeeding Research

A research study has found that babies who were breastfed went on to have a higher household income and scored higher on memory tests as an adult, in comparison to babies who were not.

The study from Queen’s University Belfast, in collaboration with University College Dublin, University College London and Cass Business School examined whether there is an economic benefit associated with breastfeeding by tracking a nationally representative sample of babies born in England, Wales and Scotland in 1958. 

Around 9000 participants were tracked from birth to adulthood.

The research team found that the adults who were breastfed had a 10% higher household income and scored higher on memory tests at age 50, in comparison to those who were not breastfed.

The researchers say the results from this study suggest that public health campaigns targeted at increasing rates of breastfeeding are likely to have a substantial economic return and raise human capital and productivity across the life course, as well as providing health benefits for women and children.

Research team lead and lecturer in economics from Queen’s Management School Dr Mark McGovern said: ‘Promotional campaigns have highlighted the health benefits of breastfeeding in recent years; however, our research shows that in addition to those benefits, breastfeeding may also have a significant economic impact throughout the life course.’

Fellow researcher Dr Slawa Rokicki from University College Dublin said: ‘Having evidence on the economic benefits of breastfeeding supports the argument for greater resources being invested in public health campaigns and breastfeeding support services. Breastfeeding may not be not right for everyone, but for those women who do want to breastfeed, increased support and information provided by these campaigns could help more women in doing so.’

The same study also found that those who were breastfed had better memory scores at age 50 (by 0.15 standard deviations), showing a potential link between breastfeeding and cognitive ability.

Mark added: ‘Our concluding results so far in the study show that if more babies are breastfed there are likely to be substantial economic returns to the resources invested in these public health campaigns, and women and children could also benefit through improvements in health, cognitive ability, and greater earnings potential.’

More information on the preliminary findings of the study is available here.