Last week we blogged on how date of birth can affect one’s personality, albeit not in the way astrologists suggest. There was a slight but statistically significant tendency for children born in summer months to become more outgoing in later life, and to rate themselves as ‘lucky’. There is, however, another phenomenon that stems from birth dates, and one which can affect not only someone’s personality but one’s success in life as a whole.
In the 1990s, Dutch researcher Ad Dudink discovered an odd trend in the biographies of professional English soccer players. He found that players were far more likely to be born in the last four months of the year than those before, with twice as many footballers born between September and November than between June and August.
This seemingly inexplicable trend had nothing to do with the signs of the zodiac, however. The reality was far more down-to-earth, but no less fascinating.
At the time of the study, budding English footballers were selected to play professionally only if they were at least 17 years old when the season started in late August. Prospective players born between September and November, it followed, would be about 10 months older than their June and August counterparts. At this young age, those extra months gave an added speed, strength, and stamina which made it more likely for players to be selected. Equally importantly, that first ‘break’ into the sport led to opportunities for better training, better coaches, and more practice with better players. Success built on success – a concept dubbed ‘accumulative advantage’ in the social sciences - and the result was that those selected younger found it easier to keep ahead of the pack as time went by.
The same effect has been observed in American baseball, Canadian hockey, Brazilian soccer, and elsewhere. Wherever there is a ‘cut-off date’ for fast-tracking youngsters into a profession, those born just a few weeks after it are disproportionately represented in the field as adults.
It goes beyond sport, though. In countries where fast-tracking in education is commonplace, those born earlier in the school calendar appear to have the greatest chance of success. Because of the accumulative advantage of having better teaching, a heavier workload, higher expectations, and more vigorous competition from peers, fast-tracked students seem not only to start ahead, but to keep ahead throughout school and beyond. The researchers Dhey and Bedard looked into this, and analyzed admissions data for four-year colleges in the US. They found that those born in the latest months of the school calendar – and hence the youngest when pupils were selected for fast-tracking – were underrepresented in colleges by around 12%. Not an overwhelming number, perhaps; but it goes to show that an early leg-up in education can make a difference.
So your date of birth can, it seems, affect your life. It just does so in ways much different to what folklore suggests.