The Subtle Effects of Birthdays

October 24, 2006

A few months ago, I read an interesting post on the Freakonomics blog about the effect of birth date on soccer stars. I thought it was an interesting effect at the time, and pondered whether it could pop up in other sports.

Well, apparently it affects minor hockey in Canda, too. From the article:

A new study shows that kids born later in the year are more likely to be filtered out of hockey at a young age, even though they will end up being as big and strong as the players who have birthdays earlier in the year.

What I find most interesting about this is that I remember, as a kid, noticing this. On my AAA and Junior hockey teams, we almost never had a kid who had a birthday in the fall (except one, who was tiny and particularly skilled). We never thought much about it at the time, but it’s definitely something that exists.

This is definitely an indication of places where sublte bias come in to play – we notice this in interviewing and hiring all the time. As much as you can say that you’re not biased towards a given outcome, the unconscious mind is a tricky thing, and leads to biases that you never would have believed.

So, if you’re aiming to have a kid who plays in the NHL, it looks like you should be trying to get pregnant in the early spring. (The saddest part of that is that I know some parents who would do exactly that.)

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3 Responses to “The Subtle Effects of Birthdays”

  1. Pete on October 24th, 2006 3:07 pm

    When was the age cutoff for determining what level you were playing at? The cutoff level and the school year of the kids often comes into play in deciding what level he/she plays at, and younger/smaller kids are always at a disadvantage. In my little league baseball group, we flex quite a bit (maybe too much) to accommodate skill level along with age…

  2. sleb on October 25th, 2006 2:29 pm

    Dr. Phil would have a field day with this one. Tying this into your search for David Lewis and the Arrow of Time, I wonder how different the universe is because of the decisions made based on self concept following a smaller kid being cut from AAA Hockey because of his size.

    … not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. :)

  3. Mike Murray on October 28th, 2006 9:40 am

    The cut-off was by calendar year when I was younger, and then they switched it to be the beginning of the hockey season (sept 1) – it was weird when the change happened because it evened it out for some of the (previously) younger kids… but then the August birthdays became the youngest kids.

    I think it’s a tough call on how to do it – focusing on skill level really sets up a competitive structure, but it can push away from the social context of the game, especially when most of our social structures for kids of that age (e.g. school) are set up by age rather than skill….

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