Published: March 20, 2019

It is well known that children who are among the oldest in the classroom tend to have higher academic achievement and self-confidence at school and are less likely to suffer from psychological and behaviour problems.


A new Life Course Centre Working Paper seeks to extend this finding by examining if these positive effects persist in adulthood. The paper, ‘Long-Lasting Effects of Relative Age at School’ is authored by Life Course Centre Research Fellow Juliana Silva-Gonçalves of the University of Sydney in conjunction with Lionel Page of the University of Technology Sydney and Dipanwita Sarkar of the Queensland University of Technology. The authors conducted an online survey of a sample of Australian adults aged 24 to 60 years who were either among the oldest or the youngest in their school class. They find that having been among the oldest in one’s peer group during school is positively associated with self-confidence in adulthood, the propensity for higher risk tolerance, and trusting others.


In most countries, including Australia, children become eligible to start school in the year they reach a certain age, typically five years old, by a given cut-off date. As a result, children born only a few weeks apart end up in the opposite ends of the age scale in the classroom – those born just before the cut-off date typically end up among the youngest, while those born just after the cut-off date end up among the oldest. The findings of this Working Paper suggest that school entry rules influence the formation of behavioural traits, creating long-lasting disparities between those born on different sides of the cut-off date. This research also highlights the importance of recognising the potential adverse effect of school entry rules when designing educational policies.


You can read the full Working Paper here.