Month of birth affects chance of attending Oxbridge

A woman cycles past Balliol College in Oxford

The likelihood of becoming a student at Oxford or Cambridge Universities can be strongly influenced by date of birth.

Last year the chance of someone born in October becoming an Oxbridge undergraduate was more than 30% higher than for someone born in July.

In seasonal terms, compared to the summer-born applicants, autumn births were 25% more likely to get an Oxbridge place, while for winter and spring births the figures were 17% and 15% more likely respectively.

This is according to data obtained from both universities under freedom of information and analysed by the BBC.

It raises the issue of whether universities should start to consider applicants' dates of birth when deciding who to give places to.

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For someone born in September, the likelihood of an Oxbridge place in 2012 was 12% higher than for those born in August”

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It is a well established fact in educational research that children who are younger in their year group at school tend on average to do significantly worse in terms of educational attainment. Known sometimes as the "birthdate effect" or "relative age effect", this generally diminishes as children get older but does not vanish.

Less research has been done on the implications for later life, but what these Oxbridge admissions statistics now demonstrate is that the impact on life outcomes can persist beyond school.

The birthdate effect is also a recognised phenomenon in sport.

We obtained figures from both universities for the months of birth of undergraduate applicants for places in 2012. This data only refers to applicants resident in the UK, not international students. The statistics for both universities reveal a similar monthly pattern for those accepted.

Oxbridge undergraduates admitted 2012

Month of birth Oxford Cambridge TOTAL Births (1993/4) Effect

Sources: Oxford and Cambridge Universities; births data from ONS, General Register Office for Scotland and NISRA; analysis by BBC









































































This fits with the birthdate effect. The vast majority of UK applicants to Oxbridge are from England and Wales, where school year groups are formed on a September-August basis. Thus those who have been older within their year groups are more likely to reach Oxbridge than their younger classmates.

(In Scotland, school year groups are formed on a March-February basis, and in Northern Ireland on a July-June basis. But only about 3 to 4% of UK-domiciled Oxbridge students are from Scotland or Northern Ireland, so the general picture is still valid.)

Of course the number of people actually born in each month also varies, but this does not explain the variation in Oxbridge admissions. For comparison I have included in the table above the numbers of births by month in the UK in 1993/94, which is the year of birth for more than 80% of the students accepted in 2012.

The final column measures the relative impact for Oxbridge entrance of being born in that month compared to August.

The Radcliffe Camera is a building at Oxford University

This means that on this basis for someone born in September, say, the likelihood of an Oxbridge place in 2012 was 1.12 times (or 12% higher than) for someone born in August.

It takes into account the overall numbers born in that month 18 years previously. This is a simplified and quick analysis, which ignores various details. But none of these factors should alter the broad overall picture of the strong presence of a birthdate effect.

However, in all this it is very important to note that for both universities a similar pattern - weighted towards birthdays earlier in the September-August academic year - applies to all applicants, not just those who were accepted.

This suggests the birthdate effect (like some other inequalities) is already present in influencing which pupils are doing well enough at school to apply to Oxbridge.

In other words, the Oxbridge admissions process is probably reflecting a pre-established pattern of educational disadvantage, not creating it.

Both Oxford and Cambridge routinely issue a broad collection of statistics relating to admissions, such as gender, ethnicity, disability, region and school type of candidates. However neither proactively publishes the data on month of birth, which we therefore obtained through requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Cambridge University

Both universities state they do not take an applicant's month of birth into account in the admissions process. A Cambridge spokesperson said that an analysis of admissions statistics should examine a range of variables over several years. Neither university wanted to issue any further reaction.

The impact of month of birth on a wide range of child and adult outcomes is currently the subject of a major research project conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which is expected to report in May.

Ellen Greaves, one of the IFS researchers, commented: "The data obtained by the BBC show that universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, may be missing out on some of the brightest students by accepting disproportionate numbers of pupils born earlier in the academic year."

"Although much could and should be done to address these inequalities earlier in the education system, it is in each university's interest to make sure that they consider a pupil's month of birth in their admissions process."

Martin Rosenbaum Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The only chance you will get to enter Oxbridge is if you are posh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Its not exactly rocket science to work out...

    Kids all start school in September, so children born shortly after this date are almost 12 months more developed that the same child in the same class which are both in Summer. Think about it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    It would be more informative to see if other countries see a similar pattern of the younger children in a year group achieving less well in their school career. The data provided about a small group of students (not all high achievers choose to apply for Oxbridge) for one year is too small - how can you explain February's data?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    "13. b223dy" what are you rambling on about? Are you saying that Oxbridge grads don't work (or work in an area you understand, such as scientific reasearch), or that they need to produce a "b223dy report" to justify their existence to you?

    Your comment - bile, bitterness but no sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Malcom Gladwell's book 'Outliers' expands on this - a very interesting read.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The best candidate gets in, simple.

    Please stop trying to force institutions to accept inferior people in order to pursue 'fairness'.

    It's not 'fair' on the best people that their places may be forcibly allocated to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    It is about time we stopped this ridiculous obsession with Oxbridge. In most subjects other UK universities offer much better degree programs.

    There are also plenty of examples in our glorious government which demonstrate that an Oxbridge education does not improve your ability to organise festivities in a brewery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Good news for my 16-year-old October baby daughter...

    ... but as an August baby myself, I basked in the completely unjustified reputation for brilliance gained due to having graduated before my 21st birthday!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    So the rich have their kids in October.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Are these the only universities in this country worthy of attending? I say bullocks to this research as its significance is very little when compared to the greater good of the country. Have the graduates of these 2 universities provided a fairer well governed society for us all? Let them do what they are good at and make a contribution like others

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I have worked as a primary school administrator for over 25 years and the spread of pupil birthdays has never been evenly distributed over 12 months - i.e. peaks in April/May and Sept/Oct. This is more likely the reason for the differential. I'm not sure these statistics are balances to take this into account. But then again, most academic data is manipulated in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Progress through education should be based on pupil's understanding, not age. My son has a health condition which makes him slightly behind his peers developmentally - physically, emotionally and educationally. This means he is in 'bottom set' in all his subjects and unlikely to do well in GCSEs at 16. If he had been able to repeat a year in primary school he would be on par with his classmates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Have you considered that the months Sept-Nov can also have those that have moved up a year? I was born in November but went to Cambridge when I was 17. Quite a few others in my year at college were in the same situation, maybe even 10%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Oxbridge admissions should be used as a measure of how our school system is doing, not modified to try and compensate for its failings.
    If the birthdate effect shows up at university level, change the school intake to tackle it.
    If state schools produce less applicants than private, invest more in our state schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Born 30 August hence youngest in the class and often bottom of the class. physically smaller so sport progress was poor.
    border line pass at 11 plus, bottom of the class of 44. sports favoured were solitary ones; middle distance running and squash ,
    At both universities I had remedial maths.
    My October born daughter is 'A star' by family planning
    An August birth date is a life sentence

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I have analysed pupil performance over a number of years and their are clear social dynamics at work within year groups. Subjects and Gender as well as birth date affect these dynamics.

    To have equality the artificial social structure that is the class room needs modernising. Vertical teaching is essential so lets use IT to assist

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    And this is a surprise because??

    It is obvious really, we are starting education TOO YOUNG. We start it earlier than many countries. This is because children are not developed enough at these young ages to actually learn in a school environment. Many are stigmatised as having 'behaviour' problems and never lose it. Start school at 6 or 7 and it makes things better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Is the summer birth disadvantage similarly true for A levels Martin? GCSEs? Could you do further FOI requests and extend the investigation back along the timeline? Or if the analysis already exists, could you post a link?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Why not have 6 month education periods where you are replaced based on your ability, not your age, at the end of each. It means that those who are able get continually pushed, those who arn't get the support to progress without becoming frustrated. There may be stigma at first but by driving the philosophy that we all need to progress at our own pace and that we can all develop will stop this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It goes to show there should only be one intake when children start school in the very beginning. No point putting kids into school early; say birthday August 31st, so they're youngest in that class.Better to wait for the next intake.Instead of 2 or 3 times a year & disrupting education.


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