Birthdate Effect in Schools Could Worsen Disadvantage

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How can teachers use pupil birthdates to help reduce the disadvantaged gap?

In a paper, The Birthdate Effect in School Sports Teams (Wilson, 2006), an analysis of the birth dates of players selected for school representative sports teams was carried out at a comprehensive school in England.

We know (British) Autumn-born children are the oldest within their year groups. As a father of a premature son born three months early (May 2011), in terms of admission and capability my son clearly should have been in the year group below. This was years before admissions policy changes were proposed for (British) summer-born pupils,

Born at the right time?

Freddie is developing well and has grown a strong interest in swimming and basketball, but that’s about it. With lockdown, I fear all of his interest in any sport will have been lost before sports clubs return to our schools.

However, with two years away until he starts secondary school, I do wonder if he will take part in sports team activities. If he does, and I suspect he will have to in his PE lessons, what influence will summer-born have on him being selected subconsciously by his teammates?

This interesting paper tested significant differences in the age of players selected for rugby, soccer, hockey and netball teams.

This is an important read for any teacher who leads physical education sports teams and PE lessons in our schools.

Wilson found Autumn-born pupils were “over-represented and summer-born pupils under-represented. These findings indicate a birthdate effect of similar magnitude to those previously recorded in Dutch and English professional soccer leagues.”


This age-related inequality in adult teams may reflect selection from school-aged representative teams with a comparable age structure. The study found that Autumn-born children on average may be favoured due to initial advantages related to enhanced physical maturity.

However, the psychological ramifications of this superiority may also be important in sustaining or even exacerbating birthdate effects.

Wilson concludes, “the unravelling of processes within schools that may create an over-representation of older pupils in school sports teams from which county representatives are chosen. Not only is this important in terms of the issue of equality of opportunity, but also in terms of major economic implications for professional clubs.”

If we want to bridge the disadvantaged gap, we should consider how sports teams are selected at school. Fifteen years on from this research, let’s hope all PE teachers are looking carefully at their sports team registers!

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