There is a "clear" relationship between lower standards of intellectual ability in childhood and a greater likelihood of taking long-term sick leave as adults, researchers have said.
Cognitive ability at a young age has a "strong impact" on whether sickness stops people from working several decades later, they said.
The study involved more than 23,000 people whose cognitive behaviour was measured in either 1946, 1958 or 1970.
In the 1946 group, 47% of those who were on long-term sick leave had been in the bottom quarter of childhood ability, compared to 13% who were in the highest category.
Some 41% of those off sick from the 1958 cohort were in the lowest quartile of ability, while 32% of the 1970 interviewees were also in this category.
The authors, writing in the journal BMJ Open, stated that more than 2.5 million people receive health-related benefits in the UK, including Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance. They claimed that strategies to reduce long-term sick leave should involve education.
"Our findings suggest that health is only one factor in understanding long-term sickness absence. We suggest that education should form part of the policy response to long-term sickness absence: for future generations, equipping children with skills necessary for labour market flexibility may inoculate them from the risk of long-term sickness absence," they wrote.
According to the study low cognitive ability and/or educational attainment is "likely" to limit the ability to transfer skills. It gives the example of a person with few skills who goes off sick from a labouring job having few options to find alternative employment.
The report, written by experts including Max Henderson of King's College London, concluded: "Long-term sick leave is a complex outcome with many risk factors beyond health.
"Cognitive abilities might impact on the way individuals are able to develop strategies to maintain their employment or rapidly find new employment when faced with a range of difficulties."
Britain's most dangerous jobs
Sick leave linked to low intellect
By far the most dangerous job across most of the world is fishing. Apparently 103 in every 100,000 fishermen will die at sea - most of them by drowning, and according to Oxford University, those who work at sea are an incredible 50 times more likely to die at work than anyone else.
How well they are rewarded for risking their lives depends on where they fit in the pecking order. At the very top, with your own boat and crew, in a good year, you could bring home more than £100,000. At the bottom of the heap as a trainee deckhand you would be lucky to get more than £10,000 a year.
In the army, these experts have the nickname Felix - because they need every one of the nine lives. We all make mistakes at work and in this role mistakes will kill or maim you.
In return for taking up such a dangerous role, you'll be paid £32,000 a year, which is made to look even more paltry by the fact that many of these experts end up drawing a disability pension before very long.
The risks of working with highly volatile and explosive materials in impossibly difficult natural environments is bad enough. Add in the risks of working in politically charged environments where you may well be a target for terrorists, and you can see why this is a dangerous job. In fact it has a fatality rate of around 32 per 100,000, and around 100 people a year die in the industry- around twice the average for all UK workers.
This risk, however, is reasonably rewarded - partly because of the fact it can be hard to attract workers to the places where oil and gas needs to be extracted. It's not uncommon for those with experience to be making £75,000 a year.
Put people up high, give them something heavy and awkward to carry, then get them to do it in the rain. It's not surprising this is a dangerous job. What is perhaps surprising is that over the past five years 30% of all work-related deaths in the UK have been in this industry. The riskiest construction jobs are those where heights are part of the every-day business of work - with scaffolders, steeplejacks ad roofers facing the most danger at work.
The pay starts around £20,000 for skilled workers, rising to around £50,000 for site managers.
Around 54,000 road accidents involving professional drivers take place on British roads every year - which is around 250 a day. Meanwhile, one in four of all road deaths involve a driver who is at work at the time. Despite stringent rules about how long they are allowed to drive for, and in-cab telematics to make sure they don't bend the rules, tiredness is the main cause.
In return for the danger, plus the long hours and the anti-social lifestyle, these workers can expect to earn around £25,000 a year.
The risks are perhaps unsurprising, given that drowning accounts for the majority of fatalities. However there are also problems from high gas consumption and mental health problems, often due to having to spend inordinate times decompressing in a confined space with another individual.
However, given the risks, the inhospitable locations and the skills required, the role can earn you £100,000 a year or more.
These are often ex-military personnel employed to protect wealthy or powerful individuals. The role is unsurprisingly highly dangerous, with the constant threat of terrorist attacks, enemy fire or booby traps.
There really is danger money associated with this job, which is another role than can earn the right individual 6 figures a year.
Around 15 police officers lose their lives at work every year. However, surprisingly, the biggest risk is from involvement in a road accident, which causes 70% of the deaths. Around half of these are officers getting to and from work. Meanwhile no more than one or two are killed by criminals in an average year. Fatalities, however, are only a small proportion of the massive number of injuries a policeman can pick up - with roughly one police officer injured every hour.
In return they can expect to earn around £40,000, rising to £55,000 for senior officers.
Again there aren't a huge number of deaths in the line of duty. However, every fire is potentially fatal, and every job carries the risk of injury. Injures are very common, although burns account for only 5% of them, the rest tend to be due to things like training and carrying equipment.
The pay has been subject to a number of arguments and even strikes but is currently around £30,000.
Perhaps it's surprising that this doesn't come higher up the list. Since 2001 over 350 have lost their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The front line is clearly just about the most dangerous environment possible, and has to be up there with the place that most people would least like to work.
In return for putting their lives on the line in the service of their county, army personnel can expect to be paid £14,000 when they start out - rising to up to £100,000 for the most senior officers.