Is Being The Youngest In Your Class A Lifetime Handicap?

In France, a new study shows that kids with December birthdays fall behind in school, and never catch up – even when it comes time for their paychecks.

PARIS - To succeed at school or work, being a Sagittarius or an early Capricorn is not your best bet. This prediction isn't based on the stars, but on your birthday. A recent French study by Julien Grenet for the National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) found that those born in December are more likely to have a less successful schooling than those born 11 months earlier in January.

With obligatory school entry dates in France, end-of-the-year kids are younger and therefore less intellectually mature than their elders when taking exams, which results in lower grades. This weakness is most visible in primary school and among children from poorer families, but does not end there.

An 11-month interval makes a child lose seven places in a 30-student class ranking of first-graders, and five third-graders, according to the study. In first grade, those born toward the end of the year get grades that are 66% lower than those born in January. Though these problems decrease as students grow older, being born in December still costs a child three to four places in 6th grade and two at the end of middle school.

But the worst news to come from this study, first published in Le Monde, is that this liability risks following December kids throughout their lives. Grenet's study reveals that the French education system (which determines orientation at the start of high school and easily recommends repeating a year) amplifies the birth-month effect.

These schooling difficulties increase the children's chances of being left back, which in itself increases their chances of going to a technical high school. The probability of repeating a year is twice as high for 11-year-olds born in December. At 15 years of age, 51% of December-born students compared to 35% of those born in January have repeated a year. The study also found repeating is twice as likely for 11-year-olds from lower-class families.

Similar costs in other countries

Falling behind in school increases the probability by three points of leaving school with a professional-technical education diploma instead of a general education diploma. The birth month effect also has a bigger impact on men than women. Among men, being born later in the year reduces the overall level of degrees obtained. Among women, the birth month influences more specifically the type of degree (professional/general.) Women tend to go to school longer and more of them get a professional college degree.

The differences in diplomas has an impact on salaries, although minimal, Grenet found. Being born in December has a bigger influence on the degree level than on the type of academic training. People born in December receive slightly lower paychecks than those born in January, 2.3% for men and 0.7% in women. Le Monde estimated the shortfall at about 12,000 euros over a 42-year career. A December birthday also makes it harder to succeed at exams for civil service, and increases chances of being unemployed by 0.5%.

These inequalities aren't just a French phenomenon. In UK classrooms, the student entry into a grade falls between September 1st and August 31st. So those born in the summer face these same challenges. Some European countries have tried to tackle the issue, including the Netherlands' allowing those born toward the end of the year to stay in first grade for two years to give them a better chance at succeeding. But for Grenet, the solution is to adjust the grades of the youngest students in middle school according to their birth month.

Read the original article in French

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!