File | Education | The effect of age (3 articles)

Karine Daraiche has two children: a boy and a girl.

Her son – the eldest – was born in February. When he started first grade, well into his 6th birthday, he was ready to learn to read, write and count. Her daughter is from the end of August. On the first day of first grade, she was still 5 years old. And… “she wanted to play”, remembers her mother.

It is difficult to separate the effect of age from that of temperament or environment. Nevertheless, Karine Daraiche saw it clearly: her daughter was not as mature when she started school. “She was also a head shorter than the others,” she explains.

In Quebec, to enter school, children must be 5 years old by September 30 at the latest. Those who follow wait until the following year. Among students in the same class, the age gap is close to one year. In kindergarten, this difference is considerable.

Mother of four children (two “old” children from October and December, and two “young” children from August and September), Marie-Ève ​​M. Scott also observed a gap in maturity between the two clans, in the early school years especially. “For my son, born in August, the teacher found a way to keep him calm: she made him count the other students in a row,” recalls Marie-Ève, who emphasizes that the transition to secondary school also represented a “very big step” for him. However, his youngest do as well at school as his oldest.

Karine Daraiche believes that the month of her daughter’s birth had an impact academically. If she had been able to start school later or repeat a year (which her parents often asked), “it would have been so much easier,” believes Karine. The little girl will perhaps go on a special path to secondary school next year. Even if she works hard, the results are not there.

Less at university

It is well documented that “class babies” perform on average slightly less well than deans. We’re talking about an average: not all children will suffer from it. Retired psychology professor from the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), Françoys Gagné gives the example of students who start school early. “This group of students demonstrates superior performance and maturity even to the oldest in the cohort,” underlines Mr. Gagné, who cites the results of the thesis of his former student Nadia Gagnier. Intellectually gifted children – including those who also have socio-emotional difficulties – have every interest, according to him, in progressing at an accelerated pace.

But in general, class babies – those born in summer in Quebec – have worse academic results than their classmates born in the fall, and this is particularly true in elementary school. At what point ?

Professor of economics at the University of California, Kelly Bedard conducted a study on the issue in 2006, looking at results on international tests in mathematics and science. At 9 years old, the babies in class were up to 12 percentiles behind the older ones.

“The question is: does this effect last? “, said Mme Bedard, joined by The Press. The answer: the effect diminishes over time, but it persists. At age 13, the gap between the youngest and oldest varied from 2 to 9 percentiles. Surprisingly, in British Columbia and the United States, cohort babies were slightly less likely to go to university (an underrepresentation of 7% to 12%).

A similar exercise was also carried out in the United Kingdom the following year. At age 7, infants in class were on average 25 percentage points less likely to reach the expected level than older children. Again, the difference decreased over time (4 percentage points at age 11 and 6 percentage points at age 16), but it did not disappear completely.

Why does the gap persist? Kelly Bedard draws a parallel with elite hockey teams, where players born at the beginning of the year are over-represented. The latter – more developed – receive more attention, gain confidence, have the best coaches… “And the youngest are left behind,” she illustrates.

In Sweden

In Quebec, class babies are those in September, and it is in September that the most children are born. The reality is different in Sweden: Swedish class babies are those born at the end of the year, and birth rates are down in November and December.

Professor of demography at Stockholm University, Gunnar Andersson attributes this reality to two factors: parents’ desire to have parental leave in the summer, and that of putting all the chances on their child’s side in terms of school and sport. . “This is the kind of thing that parents, especially more educated ones, consider,” says Gunnar Andersson, who published an article on the issue in 2019.

Consult the study by Gunnar Andersson (in English)

Parents should not get carried away though. “Don’t panic,” says Kelly Bedard. My own daughter is a class baby, she’s in college, and everything is great! » Other factors, she says, have much more impact on academic success, such as parents’ annual income. In the eyes of Professor Françoys Gagné, the simple fact of being a boy constitutes a more important factor than relative age.

Kelly Bedard is more concerned about another issue: the overdiagnosis of ADHD among the youngest cohorts.

Socio-emotional impacts

The socio-emotional impacts linked to relative age were also studied. In a review of the scientific literature published in 2023, British researchers conclude that class babies are more likely to have difficulties with behaviors, psychological well-being and social experiences, but that this difference is fortunately “very small”.


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