Feb 12, 2010
If you want to feel lucky in life, make sure you are born to well-off parents and don’t worry about whether your birthday is in the summer or winter.
In 2005, well-known psychologist Richard Wiseman and his colleagues surveyed 30,000 people via the internet to see if there is a relationship between the season in which one is born and whether or not one considers oneself lucky. They found that for Brits of all ages groups, birth during the summer half-year was associated with significantly higher belief in being lucky, whereas those born in the winter half-year did not feel lucky.
Wiseman and colleagues, reported that the maximum positive influence was found for the month of May and November was the most negative month. The result applied to all age groups and both male and female alike across the UK. It was, they suggested, to do with seasonal variations in the levels of the brain chemical, monoamine neurotransmitter.
German economist Gerd Grözinger of the University of Flensburg was not convinced, how could one’s personal outlook be determined so simply by non-social factors such as the season of one’s birth. He suspected that money or a lack thereof may have more to do with the perception of luck and that rich parents tend to have their babies in the summer half of the year.
Wiseman, of course, is a renowned academic in his field and also an expert popularizer or psychology and science in general. He has been involved in many highly publicized experiments in the UK that have utilized the power of TV, radio, and other media, including online social media to reveal the light and shade of the human condition. Regardless, Grözinger was not persuaded by the arguments in the 2005 summer luck research paper and has attempted to reproduce the experiment, as is the wont of scientific endeavour.
He analysed the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) database. This is an ongoing survey begun in 1984, which contains information on age, gender, month of birth, subjective well-being and socioeconomic situation. In order to mirror the Wiseman study, he pulled data for people under 65 years of age, giving him a data set of 18,000 people.
Plotting the date of birth against “happiness” indicators, Grözinger got a zig-zag graph with peaks in March, June, September, and November and lows in April, August, October and December/January. This contrasts starkly with the Wiseman plot of luck perception by month with its sole peak in May and its low in November.
But, it was when Grözinger began to dig into the impact of socio-economic factors that he began to see a more interesting effect.
Other researchers have pointed out in happiness research, that socioeconomic factors influence answers people give on well-being: having a higher income and a better education exerts a positive influence, while simply being born to a well-to-do family background will help later in life. “It is only reasonable to assume that such influences are also to be found in the state of feeling lucky/happy,” Grözinger says.
This correlates well with a 1984 study that more non-manual (male) workers were born in the spring and more manual workers in the autumn. “If in the UK, a social class effect explains the seasonal values reported by Wiseman in the lucky study, then one would expect that, here, the ‘upper classes’ would show relatively more births earlier in the year than the ‘lower classes’, and this is exactly what the 1984 paper found.”
“Measurements of seasonal differences in well-being, happiness, or feeling lucky should be interpreted quite carefully. Possible effects seem to be quite minimal and volatile and any distribution found could simply be the influence of (again: seasonally distributed) social stratification,” Grözinger concludes.
CHOTAI, J., & WISEMAN, R. (2005). Born lucky? The relationship between feeling lucky and month of birth Personality and Individual Differences, 39 (8), 1451-1460 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.06.012
Gerd Grözinger (2010). Born lucky – or just lucky to be born rich? A note Int. J. Public Policy, 5 (4), 430-435