Old­est kids in class do bet­ter, even into univer­sity

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - – Ar­ti­cle courtesy Univer­sity of Toronto, UofT News

IT’S BEEN known for years that the old­est chil­dren in class per­form bet­ter in school than their youngest class­mates. But ac­cord­ing to a new study co-au­thored by Univer­sity of Toronto Scar­bor­ough econ­o­mist El­iz­a­beth Dhuey, that gap can per­sist, with older chil­dren more likely to at­tend post-se­condary school and grad­u­ate from an elite univer­sity.

“Older chil­dren, in this case those born in early Septem­ber, do bet­ter in el­e­men­tary school than their younger peers,” says Dhuey, whose past re­search has ex­plored this phe­nom­e­non.

“What we found in this study is that gap per­sists through­out their school ca­reers, so they end up be­ing more likely to at­tend a post-se­condary school and grad­u­ate from an elite univer­sity.”

The study, by Dhuey, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics, and a team of three econ­o­mists from US-based uni­ver­si­ties, was pub­lished by the Na­tional Bureau of Eco­nomic Re­search. It fol­lowed dif­fer­ences be­tween Florida chil­dren born just be­fore and after the Septem­ber 1 cut­off date to start kinder­garten. (In On­tario, the cut-off date to start kinder­garten is Jan­uary 1).

Dhuey says what was sur­pris­ing about the data is that the ef­fect is fairly sig­nif­i­cant and is ex­pe­ri­enced across all so­cioe­co­nomic groups.

For ex­am­ple, in look­ing at chil­dren from the mid­dle so­cio-eco­nomic group, the re­searchers found that older Septem­ber-born stu­dents were 2.6 per cent more likely to at­tend post-se­condary school and 2.6 per cent more likely to grad­u­ate from an elite univer­sity com­pared to their younger, Au­gust-born peers.

The re­searchers also found that Au­gust-born chil­dren were one per cent more likely to be in­car­cer­ated for ju­ve­nile crimes; a find­ing Dhuey says was re­ally sur­pris­ing.

“Th­ese are not mas­sive dif­fer­ences, but it’s cer­tainly large enough to be eco­nom­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant,” she says.

While past stud­ies have shown that older chil­dren do bet­ter in school, there’s been some de­bate as to whether the ef­fect dis­ap­pears over time. This study is unique be­cause of the high-qual­ity na­ture of the data and the fact it looked at the long-term ef­fects by fol­low­ing stu­dents through­out their aca­demic ca­reers and into univer­sity.

Dhuey sug­gests older chil­dren could be en­joy­ing small ad­van­tages from get­ting a head start, which con­tin­ues over the years. It’s not clear how th­ese gaps can be re­solved, she says.

No­tably, and some­what con­tro­ver­sially, Dhuey’s past re­search has been used as ev­i­dence to sup­port aca­demic red­shirt­ing, which is the prac­tice of par­ents de­lay­ing en­trance into kinder­garten for their chil­dren born late in the year (for ex­am­ple, De­cem­ber-born chil­dren for those liv­ing in On­tario). Her re­search was also cited by Mal­colm Glad­well in his book Out­liers.

Does this study mean that par­ents of chil­dren born late in the year should be rush­ing to red­shirt their chil­dren?

Not at all, says Dhuey. “It’s not clear at all that we should be red­shirt­ing our chil­dren,” she says. “I think th­ese are large ef­fects and they’re im­por­tant to un­der­stand, but par­ents shouldn’t place un­due im­por­tance on it.”

For one, red­shirt­ing means re­mov­ing your child from the labour mar­ket for a year fur­ther down the road, which can be costly in it­self. She also notes it’s un­clear whether red­shirt­ing is even an ef­fec­tive tech­nique, since it’s never been mea­sured: there is lit­tle data com­par­ing stu­dents who were red­shirted com­pared to those who weren’t.

“My ul­ti­mate goal is to some­how pro­vide a causal ef­fect of El­iz­a­beth Dhuey, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at Univer­sity of Toronto Scar­bor­ough. red­shirt­ing, that way we can re­ally un­der­stand whether it’s a ben­e­fi­cial in­ter­ven­tion to take or not,” she says. Dhuey says it’s im­por­tant that par­ents un­der­stand the ef­fect and meet with their child’s teacher early on to talk about how to mit­i­gate it. But they shouldn’t panic — it’s not a pre­dic­tor of whether their child will be at a se­vere dis­ad­van­tage. “It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber th­ese are on­aver­age statis­tics, and that there are plenty of De­cem­ber-born chil­dren who are do­ing just fine,” she says.

PHOTO BY KEN JONES

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