The Disadvantages of Summer Babies


A new report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies in the U.K. examines the big difference that a few months can make in the student achievement of young children. Authors Claire Crawford, Lorraine Dearden and Ellen Greaves found (along with several previous studies, like this one and this one) that children born in summer months generally score lower on standardized tests and are seen as “underachievers;” while children born in September and autumn months are more academically and socially successful. From a press release about the study:

Previous research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has shown that children born at the start of the academic year achieve better exam results, on average, than children born at the end of the academic year. In England, this means that children born in the autumn tend to outperform those born in the summer. New research published today by IFS, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that month of birth also matters for other characteristics and outcomes of young people growing up in England today.  

The idea that small age gaps can have big impacts is nothing new. In fact, it’s something we write about in Superfreakonomics, with the birthday breakdown of European soccer players: 43 percent of players were born in the first thee months of the year, while only 9 percent were born in the final three months. Children who are a few months older than their peers at 5 or 6 have more developed cognitive and motor skills, which makes them more advanced athletes and students. This early advantage can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies later on: the child thinks she is an underachiever, and so will often play that role.  

The IFS researchers found some other startling statistics: summer babies are between 20 and 30 percentage points (2.5 – 3.5 times) more likely to be considered below average by their teachers by age 7, and are 7 percentage points (2.5 times) more likely to report being always unhappy at school. They are also 6 percentage points (twice as likely) to report bullying, perhaps because of their smaller physical size.

Co-author Ellen Greaves states:  “…the government should be concerned about the wider educational experience of summer-born children, who appear to be at a disadvantage in terms of their well-being as well as their test scores.” 

[HT: duffmanbrown]

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  1. Stefan Richter says:

    For parents in the UK who are concerned and affected by this: I’ve started a Google Group in order to share advice and organise a campaign for a more flexible school start in England for summer born children.
    Please join, especially if you are a parent who has hit a brick wall with their local education authority. Let’s make change happen!



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  2. jenn says:

    This is only an issue if children start school too young. In countries that start school at 7, the rate of success is not pre-determined by the birth month. This is a proven case that starting school at the age of 4 is actually bad for some children. Why is the Uk so far behind in this way of thinking?

    Streaming is also a detrimental thing to do. When a young 4 year old is put in the lower group, it may take a few years for them to notice. But when they do, they feel badly about themselves and stop trying. Teachers slot children into categories and do not expect that they are capable of moving. When the lowest group continue to disappoint as under-achievers, the teachers can say to themselves,’ I told you so’. but the streaming is what keeps them there.

    It is a sad state when children are slotted into categories so young. Give them a chance for goodness sake! I am a very different person from when I was 4, as is everyone! Shouldn’t everyone be given the same chance to show they can grow up and achieve more if given a chance.

    Stop streaming and stop starting school so young. Let children play for a few years which makes more rounded and healthy adults!

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  3. Melina says:

    Where can I find the study that the European soccer statistic came from?

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  4. Alwyn says:

    I have a little boy age six who is a summer baby. If you take all the autumn babies out of his football team he is the second best player, with them he is the tenth. He in effect a year younger and at this age its massive. In England this is supported by only a small percentage of football players being born in the summer. He effectively is not playing on a even field pardon the pun. It makes me sad as he try’s so hard but in effect he is playing against much stronger and quicker lads down to age and not down to skill. Summer babies need some recognition both physically and at school academically, maybe break classes and teams into .5 or move the football season to be different to school year so they don’t lose out on both. Whatever it is fundamentally wrong that in what is two competitive environments he is disadvantaged.

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