Published: February 7, 2019

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2019-04


Lionel Page, Dipanwita Sarkar, and Juliana Silva-Goncalves.

Non-Technical Summary:

In most countries including Australia, children become eligible to start school in the year they reach a certain age, typically 5 years old, by a given cut-off date. For instance, in New South Wales, children can enrol in school if they turn 5 on or before the 31st of July of that year. As a result, children born only a few weeks apart end up in the opposite ends of the age and maturity scale in the classroom. Those who were born just before the cut-off date typically end up among in the youngest, whereas those born just after the cut-off date end up among the oldest.

It is well known that children who are among the oldest in the classroom tend to have higher academic achievement, self-confidence, and are less likely to suffer from psychological and behaviour problems. While the advantage in academic achievement is large in the early years of school and vanishes during adolescences, some studies have suggested that the positive psychological effect of having been among the oldest versus the youngest in one’s peer group could be long lasting. These studies show that people who were among the oldest in their school cohort are over-represented in occupations that are associated with being self-confident, competitive and risk seeking, such as being a CEO, elite athlete or a politician.

We investigate directly whether the positive psychological effect of having been among the oldest among one’s peers persists in adulthood. We conduct an online incentivised survey experiment with a sample of Australian adults aged 24 to 60 years who were either among the oldest or the youngest in the classroom. We find that having been among the oldest in one’s peer group during school age is positively associated with self-confidence in adulthood, the propensity to declare higher risk tolerance in real life situations and trusting others.

Our findings indicate that school entry rules influence the formation of behavioural traits, creating long-lasting disparities between individuals born on different sides of the cut-off date. Our findings highlight the importance of recognising the potential adverse effect of school entry rules when designing educational policies.


February 7, 2019