A research study from Queen’s University Belfast has found that adults over 50 who were breastfed as babies went on to have a higher household income in comparison to those who were not.
The study 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 9,000 participants were tracked from birth to adulthood.
The research team was led by Dr. Mark McGovern, Lecturer in Economics from Queen’s Management School.
Dr. 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.”
The research team found that the adults who were breastfed had a 10 percent higher household income at age 50, in comparison to those who were not breastfed.
Breastfeeding rates in the UK, especially in Northern Ireland, remain low by international standards. The impact of the results from this study suggests 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.
“Our initial results from the study suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in the number of breastfed babies in Northern Ireland each year could generate around £100 million in additional lifetime earnings, of which around £20 million could be expected to be collected in the form of tax revenue, which could be partly used for public health campaigns,” Dr McGovern explained.
A recent report from UNICEF UK examined the potential for implementing a large-scale programme aimed at increasing breastfeeding rates. The cost of running an intervention similar to that UNICEF considered is likely to be around £200 per additional breastfed child.
Dr. McGovern explains: “Using this type of programme, and aiming for an additional 2,400 breastfed children in Northern Ireland (10 percent of the approximately 24,000 babies born here every year), the cost would be around £500,000 per year. Comparing costs and benefits suggests that such a programme would be highly cost-beneficial over the long run.”
Dr. Rokicki, from University College Dublin, commented: “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 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.”
“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,” adds Dr. McGovern.