Relative age effect on Nobel laureates in the UK Hisanori Fukunaga1 . Masataka Taguri2 . Satoshi Morita2 1

School of Medicine, Yokohama City University, Yokohama, Japan; 2Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology,

Graduate School of Medicine, Yokohama City University, Yokohama, Japan Correspondence to: Hisanori Fukunaga. Email: [email protected]

DECLARATIONS Competing interests None declared Funding None declared Ethical approval Not applicable Guarantor HF Contributorship HF conceived the study; HF, MT and SM analysed the data Acknowledgements

Objectives We set out to assess the relative age effect (RAE) on UK Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine. The academic year of the UK begins in September; therefore, children in one classroom may have an entire year’s difference in age (i.e. children born in September and those born in August of different years). This relative age difference could cause a disadvantage in the younger students compared to the older students within one classroom.1–3 In fact, the Higher Education Funding Council for England recently reported that fewer summerborn students progress through the higher education system in the UK, and that if all English students had the same chance of going to university as those born in September then there would typically be around 12,000 extra young entrants per cohort, increasing young participation by two percentage points.4

Foundation for the disclosure of information about all Nobel laureates

Main outcome measures The seasonal birth pattern of the UK had an amplitude of slightly below 15%, with peak birth rates observed in March and September, from 1948 to 1983.5 This was a precondition for us to use the 2 test to determine whether the distribution of dates of birth for UK Nobel laureates was uniform or not.



As shown in Figure 1, UK Nobel laureates born in the various quarters were 26 (41.3%, September– November), 11 (17.5%, December–February), 13 (20.6%, March–May) and 13 (20.6%, June– August). Non-UK Nobel laureates born in the various quarters were 120 (24.8%, September– November), 108 (22.4%, December–February), 119 (24.6%, March–May) and 136 (28.2%, June– August). Since these satisfied the assumptions of the test, a 2 test indicated that the distribution of UK laureate birthdays was not uniform (N ¼ 63, P ¼ 0.028), whereas that of non-UK laureate birthdays was approximately uniform (N ¼ 483, P ¼ 0.347).

The United Kingdom.



UK Nobel laureates were significantly more likely to be born between September and November. Our findings could indicate the incidence of RAE, although the underlying mechanism of RAE on scientists remains to be determined.


We would like to thank the Nobel

one case in which a single individual has received two prizes; Frederick Sanger was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in both 1958 and 1980.

The dates of birth for UK Nobel laureates were obtained from the official web site of Nobel Prize ( birthdays.html).

Provenance Submitted; peer reviewed by Daniel Gibbons

There have been 62 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine who were born in the UK. There is no restriction on a single person receiving repeated honours, thus there is

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4: 1–2. DOI: 10.1177/2042533313492514


Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Short Reports

Figure 1 Distributions of dates of birth of the UK and non-UK Nobel laureates

References 1. Shearer E. The effect of date of birth on teachers’ assessments of children. Educ Res 1967 10:51–6 2. Williams P, Davies P, Evans R, Ferguson N. Season of birth and cognitive development. Nature 1970 228:1033–6 3. Bell JF, Daniels S. Are summer-born children disadvantaged? The birthdate effect in education. Oxf Rev Educ 1990 16:67–80

4. Higher Education Funding Council for England. Young Participation in Higher Education. HEFCE Ref 2005/03, 2005 5. Lam DA, Miron JA. Global patterns of seasonal variation in human fertility. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1994 709:9–28

ß 2013 The Author(s) This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License (, which permits non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


J R Soc Med Sh Rep 2013: 4: 1–2. DOI: 10.1177/2042533313492514 Downloaded from by guest on November 14, 2015

Relative age effect on Nobel laureates in the UK.

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