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What is the single most important, optional thing that parents can do to ensure the happiness and success of a child?

For today's topic, I'm assuming that taking care of a child's health is mandatory, not optional. And the law says you have to send your kid to school, or home school. So education isn't optional either.

Your mind is probably sorting through a number of parenting styles right now. You're thinking about how much time the mother spends with a child. You're thinking about the type of discipline a parent uses. You're thinking about role modeling, and how much focus is put on schoolwork. 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?

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.

When I first heard about the birth month advantage, I assumed it didn't matter much for ordinary kids who had no plans to be professional athletes. But consider any kids you know, and how much they change, mentally, emotionally, and physically in the course of one year. The youngest kids in a given class are at a huge intellectual disadvantage compared to the oldest. How different is the experience of a kid that breezes through school thinking he's brilliant, versus the kid who needs a tutor to keep up?

We know that some childhood advantages disappear over time. A recent study showed that raw intelligence was a better predictor of long term income than a child's socioeconomic starting point. Likewise, maybe the younger kids with talent learn to try harder, and to cope with failure, which has its own advantages later in life.

Let's test the hypothesis, albeit unscientifically, that birth month advantages are lasting. If you have siblings, and one of you was young for your class, and the other was old, which one of you is more successful as an adult?

 

 
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Feb 29, 2012
My twin sister and I were born right in the middle as far as our classmates' ages. We both have Master's degrees and have been successful in our professional careers thus far. Both of our husbands are December babies, so the young ones. One is a sprinkler fitter, the other works in a grocery store (but is working on a Bachelor's degree part time). Neither were 'good' students... just average.
 
 
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Feb 29, 2012
Scott,

It's funny that you ask for discriminating, divisive thoughts among siblings where actually there may be none. At least in my case there were none.

I am the youngest in a lot of three. The oldest among us is rich and powerful. The second was a great struggler and took one chance too many before he kicked the bucket. The third, me, am doing better than ever before. I can't say the same about my past, nor my future.

Nonetheless, I am not sure how the month or order of birth has affected my life.

In our family, the measure of success or failure was in how glad or sad we were after anything was done. Outside opinions didn't matter.

The days when one of us failed were also the days when the other two appeared from nowhere and spent time distracting each other.

The days when there was something accomplished, the winner would share his joy by giving the other two long, tiring lectures on metaphysical ethics. The philosophy of the subject was entirely limited to the winner's perceptions. But that was alright. He deserved those moments.

And yes, discrimination of our individual strengths and weaknesses was left to the wives. They did that mostly during casual chats in the privacy of the bedrooms.

.
 
 
Feb 29, 2012
My sister was a young starter (and was advanced a grade making her really young in comparison to her peers) and I was middle-of-the-pack. I went on to get my BSc and work as a Programmer, she finished high school and has worked as a waitress ever since.
 
 
Feb 29, 2012
1. Asking random readers on your blog isn't very efficient. It'd be better to take a sample of the most successful people from several different carreer paths and see when they were born and which class they were in.

2. I know two siblings who whose birthdays are within 2 weeks of each other, totally different levels of success or lack thereof.

3. If you read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, it was the knowledge that Rich Dad had which lead to financial success for the author.

IMO it's got more to do with genetics and what you are taught then how old you are compared to your classmates.
 
 
Feb 29, 2012
I'm a December baby, started first grade at 5, older and younger siblings all started at 6. I'm not the most successful, but since I'm the middlest child (4th of 7) I tried to keep up with older siblings, so was used to pushing myself beyond what was 'normal'. So I guess I'm willing to work harder on lots of things that they never tried to do.
 
 
 
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