Summer-born children less likely to attend top universities, study finds

1 November 2011

August-born teenagers are 20 per cent less likely to win a place at a top UK university than those born in September, a new study has found.

The research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) also found that pupils with August birthdays are 20 per cent more likely to study for vocational qualifications if they stay on in post-compulsory education.

The new study is co-authored by Lorraine Dearden, who is also Professor of Economics and Social Statistics at the Institute of Education (IOE). It is partly based on data gathered by the Millennium Cohort Study, which is managed by the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

The IFS research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, builds on previous studies which have shown that children born at the start of the academic year achieve better exam results than their younger classmates.

It found that, relative to children born in September, those with August birthdays score substantially lower, on average, in national achievement tests and other measures of cognitive skills. They are 1½ percentage points (20%) less likely to attend a Russell Group university at age 19.

However, the IFS study also demonstrates that month of birth can affect a much wider range of skills and behaviours that are important for success later in life. It shows that August-born children, in comparison with September-born pupils:

  • are between 2½ and 3½ times more likely to be regarded as below average by their teachers in reading, writing and maths at age 7
  • have lower confidence in their academic ability and are less likely to believe that they control their own destiny as teenagers
  • are more than twice as likely to report being always unhappy at school
  • are twice as likely to report being bullied all the time at age 7.

Commenting on these findings, Ellen Greaves, another author of the report, said: “It is clear that the consequences of the month in which you were born extend beyond educational attainment. The government should be concerned about the wider educational experience of summer-born children, who appear to be at a disadvantage in terms of their well-being as well as their test scores.”

The IFS study also analysed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. The IFS researchers noted that their analysis was made possible by the rich information on skills and behaviours contained within each dataset, as well as the links to administrative data on national achievement test scores.

For more information:

Read the full report, Does when you are born matter? The impact of month of birth on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills in England, by Claire Crawford, Lorraine Dearden and Ellen Greaves.

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