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10 Fun Facts About Birthdays

9. The highest number of CEOs at S&P 500 companies were born in March and April.

Dmitrii Shironosov/123RF
Source: Dmitrii Shironosov/123RF

In a world where many things tend to divide, we all are united by birthdays. Anybody who is alive is at most 365 days away from this joyous occasion—unless, of course, you’re born on a leap year day.

In acknowledgment of everybody’s favorite day, here are 10 happy facts about birthdays.

1. Origins

Historians believe that the first people to celebrate birthdays were the Romans. On the birthdate of family members, friends, or business contacts, the celebrated were regaled with banquets, gifts, and prayers.

2. Children's birthdays

Today, birthdays are probably most cherished by children, but in centuries past, birthdays were mostly the domain of adults. It wasn’t until the 19th century that children’s birthdays were first widely celebrated. In fact, children’s birthdays were first formally recognized by the Germans, who coined the term kinderfeste, or children’s parties.

3. Milestones

In the 20th century, birthdays were recognized as important rituals in the life of a child. Ostensibly, they help kids adapt to biological and social age-related changes that come with growing.

4. Birthday candles and cakes

The placement of candles on birthday cakes has various potential origins. Ancient Egyptians used candles during coronations, which were held to raise the status of humans to gods. Later, ancient Greeks placed candles on moon-shaped honey cakes made for the goddess Artemis. The Greeks thought that the smoke from blown-out candles lifted prayers and wishes to the tops of Mount Olympus. Another hypothesis as to the origin of birthday candles is rooted in the German practice of placing a candle in the center of bread or cake baked into the likeness of baby Jesus, which symbolized the light of life.

5. From pagan to pious

Early Christians viewed birthday celebrations as pagan in nature. By Medieval times, however, people celebrated the days of saints whom they were named after, a practice that later shifted to celebrating individual birthdates. Celebrations were believed to ward off evil spirits that were attracted to people on their birthdays; friendly visits, good wishes, revelry, and mirth were believed to spook these evil spirits.

6. Chinese birthdays

In China, a newborn is considered age 1. Thus, a 1-year-old in the West, as well as most other parts of the world, would be aged 2 years in China.

7. Birthday song

Mildred and Patty Hill, who were sisters involved in the progressive education movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, penned the song Good Morning to All In 1893. Although the notes were retained, the lyrics were later changed to Happy Birthday to You.

8. Birthday sentiments

Results from a Lithuanian study querying 309 medical students found that respondents felt better and more loved on their birthdays. Per study authors Darja Rojaka and Sigita Lesinskienė, women tended to feel more loved and special on their birthdays than did men. In other results, 90.9% of respondents preferred to celebrate their birthday with friends, 80.6% with significant others, 66.3% with family members, and 12% alone. Additionally, 49.2% preferred that their birthdays be organized by others versus 21.4% preferring to organize birthdays on their own. Lastly, 18.1% of respondents didn’t celebrate their birthdays at all (wa-wa).

9. Boss birthdays

In a study published in Economics Letters, senior author Maurice D. Levi, of the University of British Columbia, found that the number of CEOs at S&P 500 companies born in June and July dwarfed the number of CEOs born in other months. Specifically, 6.1% of CEOs were born in June and 5.9% were born in July compared with 12.5% born in March and 10.7% born in April.

“Our evidence is consistent with the ‘relative-age effect’ due to school admissions grouping together children with age differences up to one year, with children born in June and July disadvantaged throughout life by being younger than their classmates born in other months,” wrote Levi and colleagues. “Our results suggest that the relative-age effect has a long-lasting influence on career success.”

Of note, the relative-age effect refers to how those born earlier during an academic year outperform those born later due to age-related physical, emotional, and cognitive advancement.

10. "Birthday effect" in sports

The NCAA notes that a birthday effect is particularly pronounced in certain sports, with the oldest children in each grade or youth-sports grouping more likely to be recognized as more talented than their less physically and psychologically developed peers. These older students are given access to enhanced competition, coaching, and training. This phenomenon is most pronounced in men’s and women’s ice hockey, men’s tennis, baseball, and women’s softball.

References

Aune TK, et al. Relative Age Effects and Gender Differences in the National Test of Numeracy: A Population Study of Norwegian Children. Front Psychol. 2018; 9: 1091. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01091

Du, Qianqian, et al. The relative-age effect and career success: Evidence from corporate CEOs. Economics Letters. 2012; 117(3): 660-662. DOI: 10.1016/j.econlet.2012.08.017

Herman, B. History of Birthdays. Farmer’s Almanac. Accessed 4/6/2020. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/history-birthdays-20088

NCAA. The Birthday Effect in College Athletics. Accessed 4/6/2020. http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/birthday-effect-college-at…

Rojaka D, Lesinskienė D. A survey of some aspects of birthday celebration. Acta Med Litu. 2018; 25(2): 107–111. doi: 10.6001/actamedica.v25i2.3764.

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