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Political Selection and the Relative Age Effect


  • Daniel Muller
  • Lionel Page


We present substantial evidence for the existence of a bias in the distribution of births of leading US politicians in favor of those who were the eldest in their cohort at school. The result is robust to both parametric and nonparametric tests and is not driven by measurement error, redshirting or a sorting effect of highly educated parents. The magnitude of the effect we estimate is larger than what other studies on 'relative age effects' find for broader (adult) populations, but is in general consistent with research that looks at high-competition environments. The findings are in line with a multiplier effect of early human capital acquisition (Cunha and Heckman, 2007) whereby early skill accumulation lowers the cost of further investments.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel Muller & Lionel Page, 2013. "Political Selection and the Relative Age Effect," QuBE Working Papers 009, QUT Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:qut:qubewp:wp009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Billari, Francesco C. & Pellizzari, Michele, 2008. "The Younger, the Better? Relative Age Effects at University," IZA Discussion Papers 3795, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Fernanda Brollo & Tommaso Nannicini & Roberto Perotti & Guido Tabellini, 2013. "The Political Resource Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(5), pages 1759-1796, August.
    3. Timothy Besley & Stephen Coate, 1997. "An Economic Model of Representative Democracy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 85-114.
    4. Dobkin, Carlos & Ferreira, Fernando, 2010. "Do school entry laws affect educational attainment and labor market outcomes?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 40-54, February.
    5. Guido Imbens & Karthik Kalyanaraman, 2012. "Optimal Bandwidth Choice for the Regression Discontinuity Estimator," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(3), pages 933-959.
    6. Benjamin F. Jones & Benjamin A. Olken, 2005. "Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth Since World War II," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 835-864.
    7. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance, 2006. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
    8. Dhuey, Elizabeth & Lipscomb, Stephen, 2008. "What makes a leader? Relative age and high school leadership," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 173-183, April.
    9. McCrary, Justin, 2008. "Manipulation of the running variable in the regression discontinuity design: A density test," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 698-714, February.
    10. Galasso, Vincenzo & Nannicini, Tommaso, 2011. "Competing on Good Politicians," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 105(01), pages 79-99, February.
    11. Kelly Bedard & Elizabeth Dhuey, 2006. "The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1437-1472.
    12. Maria Paola & Vincenzo Scoppa, 2011. "Political competition and politician quality: evidence from Italian municipalities," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 148(3), pages 547-559, September.
    13. Evans, William N. & Morrill, Melinda S. & Parente, Stephen T., 2010. "Measuring inappropriate medical diagnosis and treatment in survey data: The case of ADHD among school-age children," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 657-673, September.
    14. Daron Acemoglu & Georgy Egorov & Konstantin Sonin, 2010. "Political Selection and Persistence of Bad Governments," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(4), pages 1511-1575.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Age, luck & unearned privilege
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2013-05-01 18:23:22


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    Cited by:

    1. Luca Fumarco & Giambattista Rossi, 2015. "Relative Age Effect on Labor Market Outcomes for High Skilled Workers – Evidence from Soccer," Management Working Papers 9, Birkbeck Department of Management, revised Mar 2015.
    2. Claire Crawford & Lorraine Dearden & Ellen Greaves, 2013. "The impact of age within academic year on adult outcomes," DoQSS Working Papers 13-05, Department of Quantitative Social Science - UCL Institute of Education, University College London.
    3. Claire Crawford & Lorraine Dearden & Ellen Greaves, 2014. "The drivers of month-of-birth differences in children's cognitive and non-cognitive skills," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 177(4), pages 829-860, October.

    More about this item


    relative age effect; political selection; regression discontinuity design; school entry cut-off dates; leadership;

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