Outliers

I’ve been reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Elizabeth and I tried reading it when we were driving to Chicago. I mean, we tried listening to the audiobook version on the drive up there. We made it through the first 2 or 3 chapters, but for some reason stopped. I’ve been meaning to read it since then. It is an incredibly interesting book. Gladwell is a very talented writer. He tells a story very well. The book’s premise is that all the things we think we know about people who excel at anything is wrong. The book attempts to debunk all that and tell the true story behind how people get to be so good at something.

The first chapter talks about the Canadian Hockey League. Gladwell talks about how the players are groomed for playing in these leagues from the time they begin playing hockey at a very young age. Each level of players get weeded and the good ones progress to the next level, so that the time they get to the major league, the players are the best of the best of the best. Then, a researcher discovered that something like 2/3rds of the players in these teams have birthdays in the first three months of the year in which they were born. So he looked into it further and found that to be the case all across the league and even in the US’s National Hockey League. So what is the deal with the early-in-the-year birthdays? Based on what I remember from the audio book, because I haven’t gotten that far in the book yet, the players with the early birthdays are relatively older than the players born later in the year. When a kid is born in January and begins playing hockey when he turns 5, then he is six months older than a kid born in August who begins when we turns 5 (which would be the same year). That relative age difference gives the kid born in January an advantage. They’re more mature, taller, stronger, and generally better for sports. Apparently, the six months makes a big difference in their abilities. So this advantage follows them throughout because they are always 6 months older than everyone else in their classes.

This also applies to students in their academic classes. The relative age difference allows kids born in January to have an academic edge over students born in August or after. The older ones tend to get better grades and better scores or tests and get into better colleges and get better jobs. All because they were born earlier in the year than their classmates. This advantage has nothing to do with the kid’s aptitude, but the aptitude is affected by the age.

Very interesting stuff. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it as I progress through the book.

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