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Primary Education News
News Summer babies at a disadvantage? It didn't hurt Obama, Clinton or Napoleon
Studies show children born in summer months have significant disadvantage compared to autumn-born schoolmates
Barack Obama says that he was an unfocused and indifferent student, a "bum" whom his mother scolded for being a loafer, he recalls in his autobiography, Dreams of my Father.
By the time he was a law professor at Chicago University however, he was widely considered to be an intense and brilliant intellectual – a leap that, according to the findings of the Institute of Fiscal Studies report, was achieved despite the drawback of his August birth date.
Academia is crowded with studies showing that children born in the summer have a significant disadvantage compared to their autumn-born schoolmates, with impediments appearing at birth and continuing, and proliferating, through life.
In between birth and death, however, lie exams. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says academic success is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, the foremost of which is relative age.
He notes that in countries such as the US, where ability grouping begins in early childhood, students who are among the oldest in their grade will begin the school year more advanced than those who are among the youngest.
Research closer to home backs his claims of Gladwell. A recent analysis of data released under the Freedom of Information Act by the BBC found that a person born in October had a 30% higher chance of securing an Oxbridge place compared with those born in July.
In all, the research showed, students with autumn birthdays were 25% more likely to get into Oxford and Cambridge. Those with winter birthdays were 17% more likely to get into Oxbridge compared with those born in the summer. Those with spring birthdays were 15% more likely.
Yet it is hard to see any consistent pattern. Scrolling through the names of successful politicians, writers, intellectuals and strategists born in the autumn rather than the summer throws up no clear divides.
Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, TS Eliot and William Golding were born in September, but then Mother Teresa, Stephen Fry, Bill Clinton and Napoleon Bonaparte share their August birthdays with Obama.
Attempting to attribute sporting prowess to relative age is as tricky. In Outliers, Gladwell describes a phenomenon he dubs accumulative advantage in which "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". To illustrate, he points to the fact that a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the year.
He explains this by pointing out that because youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, so children born on 1 January play in the same league as those born on 31 December in the same year.
But how, then, to explain Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson, born in July? Now a politician and television presenter, she has won 11 Paralympic gold medals. Or Sir Chris Hoy, born in March, who won three Olympic golds?
Greatness, Gladwell concludes, depends more on practice than inherent genius or relative age. Good news, one might think, for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and Wayne and Coleen Rooney, all of whom are expecting babies in the coming months.