This is a claim (or, rather, an hypothesis) made by Scott Adams in a recent blog post, "Parenting that Makes a Difference":

My hypothesis is that the month you conceive is the most important factor in a child's success. And no, I don't mean horoscopes are important. What matters most is how old a kid is for the class he is placed in. Macolm Gladwell described in his book Outliers how the older kids in a class are identified as gifted athletes, when in fact they are simply older. Coaches give more attention, training and resources to develop the perceived talents of older kids, thus widening the gap over their younger classmates.

Actually, Adams claims that it's "the most important factor" , not just an important factor.

From the article mentioned in Adams' post, "Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell":

A close look at the rosters of top Canadian hockey teams reveals an oddly disproportionate number of players born in the first three months of the year. The reason is relative age. Canadian youth hockey leagues base a player’s eligibility on the calendar year, so skaters born on January 1 play with boys with December birthdays. At nine or ten years of age, several months can make a noticeable difference in a child’s size and coordination. The coaches then tend to label the bigger, more focused players the better ones, when in fact what they are is older. Those kids go on to get extra practice and playing time, and eventually do end up being better.

  • Your claim seems to be about success in sports and athletics. You may want to modify your question to limit it to that aspect. I think it would make it a better question – Chad Mar 5 '12 at 14:33
  • My question was deliberately wide, because Adams is deliberately vague. He's talking about success in general rather than just athletic success. And I must admit I'm more interested in the influence of the month of conception on "intellectual success". – Olivier Bruchez Mar 6 '12 at 8:57
  • I understand why you might want to keep it wide. I am saying that with the claims you cite it would make a better question to limit it to sports. Especially since this is much easier to address in the QA site. As it stands, the question is really to broad to address here. You would likely need a book (or several volumes of books) to address this question thoroughly. – Chad Mar 6 '12 at 13:37

Yes, it is a factor.

The degree results of nearly 300,000 British graduates were tabulated by the month of their birth. The number of graduates varied as a function of month of birth. So too, but in a different way, did the quality of their degree results. A number of possible predictors of the results are examined. These analyses suggest that, among those who stay at school until the age of 18, the oldest in their year group are at an advantage but, by the time they graduate from university, the youngest perform best. It is concluded that some intellectually relevant quality peaks between 18 and 21 yr of age and then declines.

Whether it is the most important factor is a rather meaningless designation. Not dying in child-birth is a more important factor, as a facetious example.

  • "Whether it is the most important factor is a rather meaningless designation": Of course. As is the case with most posts by Scott Adams, you have to read between the lines. – Olivier Bruchez Mar 6 '12 at 8:29
  • Quoting Adams: "You might think nutrition, love, hugging, and a dozen other factors are important, and you'd be right. But what is the one factor that is bigger than them all?" – Olivier Bruchez Mar 6 '12 at 8:44

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