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Why autumn and winter babies are far more likely to be elected to parliament 
JAY GORY, MANAGING EDITOR, science
Honesty, integrity and the desire to make the world a better place should be the qualities which make politicians more electable. But a new study suggests that the month they were born is a major factor in success at the polls for male MPs. Children born at the beginning of the school year, who are the oldest in their class (September babies in Britain) have nearly double the chance of being elected to parliament, according to research that looked at polling results in Finland between 1996 and 2012. The research, carried out by the London School of Economics (LSE), found that being the oldest child in a school year increased the probability of a candidate getting elected to the parliament from 9.9 per cent to to 16.8 per cent. It is known as the ‘relative age effect’ and has been noticed in other walks of life, such as professional sports where the majority of top level athletes were the oldest in their year. It is thought to occur because the oldest children are bigger and do better in sport so are more likely to be coached and picked for teams. In school, older children in the year are often allocated more responsibilities and psychologically being better and stronger than peers raises self confidence and self esteem. Liam Fox MP was a September baby  Credit: AFP Teachers also often place more confidence in older children which triggers a phenomenon known as ‘the Pygmalion effect’ where youngsters achieve more simply because they are expected to. In the current cabinet, 61 per cent of the males were born between September and February and 44 per cent were born between September and November.   Dr Janne Tukiainen, Visiting Professor in the Department of Government at LSE, said: “The finding that the relative age effect is present only for males in competitive political environments suggests that the effect may be driven by males benefiting from being able to successfully compete with their peers from early on in life. “Given our results, it would be important that schools, and for example sports clubs, pay more attention to mental and physical maturity, rather than age when dividing cohorts, to create the conditions where all individuals can reach their full potential.” The British system of beginning school in September after a long summer holiday was originally brought in to allow children to help with the harvest. The researchers say they are also able to rule out that environmental or climatic factors might be an issue, such as children exposed to more sunlight at critical developmental phases may do better overall. "Our design solves the problem," added Dr Tukiainen.  "So we can rule that out, because we compare candidates in a very narrow band around the cutoff, thus those are exposed to same environmental and climatic factors. "So at least our results are not explained by those factors. When they play additional role we do not know." But the also warne that ‘artificial rules imposed by society may create persistent inequality’ and could result in the ‘irreversible loss of potential talent among the relatively young in many areas of human life.’ The research was published in the European Journal of Political Economy. read more
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