The goal of this study was to examine the degree to which children born within the “normal term” range of 37 to 41 weeks’ gestation vary in terms of school achievement.


This study analyzed data from 128 050 singleton births born between 37 and 41 weeks’ gestation in a large US city. Data were extracted from city birth records to assess a number of obstetric, social, and economic variables, at both the individual and community levels. Birth data were then matched with public school records of standardized city-wide third-grade reading and math tests. Specifically, we assessed (1) whether children born within the normal term range of 37 to 41 weeks’ gestation show differences in reading and/or math ability 8 years later as a function of gestational age, and (2) the degree to which a wide range of individual- and community-level social and biological factors mediate this effect.


Analyses revealed that gestational age within the normal term range 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. This effect was independent of birth weight, as well as a number of other obstetric, social, and economic factors.


Earlier normal term birth may be a characteristic considered by researchers, clinicians, and parents to help identify children who may be at risk for poorer school performance.

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