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

10 things we found out because of Freedom of Information

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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The money from the hooky Oxbridge undergraduate system is well spent on top flight post grads...

    ...who are far more likely to have come from somewhere like Warwick University...

    Meanwhile the undergrads move into politics and join the Labour or Tory party where their true genius can be seen by all

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    "An August birth date is a life sentence"

    No, in many cases, It just means you have to work harder. To counter your example: My sister, born August 19th, not naturally the smartest in the year but works very hard. Undergrad - Oxford, Masters & PhD Cambridge.

    I think it is tougher being the youngest but it doesn't have to affect your whole life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I think there's a 100% chance you'll leave Oxford with debt and not have a job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    These results mean little unless they controlled for social class and other related factors. For example, if social class is linked to both Oxbridge entry and season of birth, it can explain (i.e. confound) the association between season of birth and Oxbridge entry.
    Disclaimer: I am a public school educated (in British sense of the term), not wealthy, foreign, Cambridge post-graduate student.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I'm an Ox grad. Some years ago 3 kids of different non Oxbridge friends, 2 at state schools,1 at private day sch, decided they wanted to go to Ox.Parents doubtful, as ALL teachers involved advised against,SOLELY on the grounds that you had to be rich, have contacts, the right accent, etc, all the usual chips and idiocy. I said have a go. All 3 were accepted.Some teachers have a lot to answer for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Well duh! This is simply the inevitable result of trying to force a natural cycle (birthrates) onto an artificial (term times) one. Rather like the piece about natural sleep cycles being forced to fit unnatural working patterns.

    It's about time we stepped away from such old-fashioned patterns, and devised educational/work cycles that fit us better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    It's well attested in primary schools that summer born children entering full time schooling in January in England lose out in comparison with those who enter at the beginning of the academic year the previous September, which is why most primaries have now adopted a single point of entry at September.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Post 30. I went to University and actually have both an undergraduate and masters degree. Not having been to a prep school nor a top public school put me and no doubt thousands of other "normal" people at a disadvantage when it came to a distorted selective Oxbridge entrance system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    @28. penguin337
    "Oxbridge is the apex of a British educational caste system based on wealth not ability"

    And you base this on what exactly?

    All "Oxbridge" care about is recruiting the brightest and those that will make the best contribution. The interview process gives them more flexibility to do this than other universities as they have some context behind the grades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Well my daughter is obviously a very rare creature - an Oxford graduate (with masters from Aberdeen and Imperial and now studying for a PhD at Imperial) - she was born in August, went to a state school and we are not rich.
    The blind prejudice against Oxbridge makes my blood boil - always from people who know nothing about the universities, have preconceptions or didn't get in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I was born at the end of June but I would say that I was no worse off than my friends born in October because we have been in education for the same amount of time and surely as long as we are all educated equally then it shouldn't make that much of a difference

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I was born in June. Who can I sue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Wow. A lot of bitter people already basing their opinion on nothing more than their own "prejudice" against what they see as an elite. In reality it is the most intelligent AND best educated. The latter being primarily from Private Education (so generally Posh!) but certainly not exclusive.
    I suggest that many of the critics never went to Uni let alone applied to Oxbridge!
    Me - State Educated!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Oh for heaven's sake, this is nonsense. Surely everyone already knows that we Oxbridge graduates are hatched, not born. Our reptilian overlord parents always check the dates before spawning because they know the beaches are too crowded for a good hatch in the summer months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Oxbridge is the apex of a British educational caste system based on wealth not ability

    It must be a bit irritating for some lecturers.
    Being forced to educate very-wealthy-but-not-too-bright kids instead of the intellectual cream

    Britain, like India will stay forever in the slow lane of the global market economy because of it's caste system

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Shock horror. The oldest children in an academic year do better than the youngest.

    Other shock headlines. Earth orbits Sun. Sky is blue. Ice feels cold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Its pretty obvious that those who are nearly a year older will have a better chance .
    If anything the numbers are less skewed than I would expect .

    So why run a HYS on this topic .
    just an excuse for some Oxbridge bashing .

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Last year the chance of someone born in October becoming an Oxbridge undergraduate was more than 30% higher than for someone born in July
    ...while someone with a rich mummy or daddy had a 99% greater chance of becoming an Oxbridge undergraduate

    Oxbridge is a broken system

    Five schools 'send more to Oxbridge than 2,000 others'

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Grammar school entry via 11+ already account for age in the results ie older kids in year have to perform higher to get the same grade. This creates the opposite problem eg my October son is bored being in a class of younger kids but needs to stay well ahead of the class to get the same 11+ score. School refuses to move him up a year even though they have admitted his reading age is 5 years ahead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    So being born in August was why I wasn't accepted at Oxford but an October birthdate helped David Cameron who was accepted at the same college and course that year.
    Being born in August or the end of the year always means you compete against pupils up to a year older and bigger. It doesn't help but where you went to school and who you know probably helps much more.


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