Dumb Science: Not all gloom and doom for August babies

Children who are born in August are more likely to underachieve in school, engage in risky behaviours and earn less over their lifetime than September-born children in the same academic year, according to a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

How serious are these findings? It seems obvious that being almost a year younger means that August children have had a year less to develop physically, emotionally and academically. However, the report also shows that the importance of the age gap decreases with time, as August children are able to catch up with their classmates.

Apparently, August children have poorer socio-emotional skills than September children in the early years. Yet this ‘conclusion’ is based on subjective and contradictory teacher and parental reports. Teacher reports are focused on the relationship between birth month and emotional development, while parental reports take into account a wider range of factors in judging their child’s emotional development. Perhaps the most significant finding of the IFS report is how much teachers are influenced by the common perception of August children’s delayed development.

In fact August children are less likely to drink alcohol or smoke cannabis than September children, and only slightly more likely to play truant. There are no differences between August and September children’s self-worth or enjoyment of school at any stage in their life, and August children are likely to benefit from greater parental input into their education and a richer home learning environment.

Neither does being born in August have a significant impact on academic aspirations or university choice. While August children are 20 percent more likely to pursue vocational study, leading to lower earnings over their lifetime, they are only 2.2 percent less likely to go to university and only 1.8 percent less likely to go to a Russell Group university than are September children. Furthermore, the IFS report states that these differences are more influenced by household income than birth month.

This rather sensationalist August/September comparison should not obscure the range of ages within a class and the different rates of children’s development. August children can be at a disadvantage when compared to their September peers in their early years. However, the only long term effects of this disadvantage are linked to the choice of vocational study and the lower earnings associated with that choice. In reality the month you are born in does not determine your success in life.

-Nika Jones