If Birth Season Matters… Another Possibility Why

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 15, 2009 10:13 am

Razib Khan is always up to something creative and Sunday night was no exception. Check out the google trend for “depression” he spotted unintentionally while searching for the economic meaning of the word:


This graph shows a clear seasonal trend and brings to mind the study on birth season that came out earlier this year from the University of Notre Dame. So perhaps we have yet another factor to consider in the equation of why winter babies seem to fall behind their peers… Might a parent’s emotional state at birth influence the child’s health and achievement later in life?


Comments (13)

  1. Thanks for catching that Matt. Fixed 🙂

  2. Dennis Evans

    I’d like to see more detail on that graph. What does that line represent? Depression of whom? Children? The trend is downward, people are less depressed? That’s why I think more detail would make this graph more meaningful.

    I suspect that cloudiness during the winter months have bearing on the data. Can you produce a similar graph for people in the southern hemisphere, for the same time period?

  3. @3 Dennis,
    It merely reflects the number of google searches for the word ‘depression’ over time..

  4. Kin

    Dennis, it is not a graph of depression rates.

    It is a graph of search terms, how often people search certain terms.

    Check out google trends. google.com/trends

  5. Guy


    I have a smaller sample of four brothers and three sisters. Here’s how the birthdays and level of achievement break down.

    1st, January, High IQ, Well-educated, fairly successful.
    2nd, September, Average IQ, Working class, large family, somewhat successful.
    3rd, November, Below Average IQ (minor genetic retardation), Struggling to get by.
    4th, October, Average IQ (mental health issues), Working class, Struggling
    5th, February, High IQ, Well-educated, fairly successful.
    6th, October, Average IQ, Working class, large family, somewhat successful.
    7th, May, Average IQ, Working class, Struggling.

  6. Sven DiMilo

    It’s silly to jump to the conclusion that the search rate for the word “depression” has anything to do with the searchers’ “emotional state.” Somebody on the original thread suggested the more parsimonious interpretation that the graph merely depicts the academic year and students researching psych, history, and/or economics assignments.

  7. Yes, and as I wrote when I initially blogged about the birth season study, correlations don’t really prove much.

  8. Marion Delgado

    There’s another issue to be brought up in this and the other post, Sheril: are these so-called bayesian inferences, or frequentist statistics, or neither?

  9. Stevie

    I will mention one thing , and that is that it always seemed that way back , when I was in school, it always seemed that kids born early in the year always seemed to have a leg up on everyone else. They were always perseived as Older , and seemed to get a lot more attention from teachers . My best bud, Bill, back in the day, was born early in the year ( i was Born the end of October ) He got his Driver’s liciense before anyone else, and was immediately ” upwardly moble, socially. He became my friend, not because I liked himso much as I liked his car , and going places , and meeting girls. An evolutionary advantage ? You Bet 111

  10. jennifer

    really? a parent’s emotional state affects a baby? this is a new discovery? 😉

  11. bob

    Then what was the point of this post, Sheril?

  12. Nurse Grace

    Stevie, probably because the kids born in January are older than the other kids. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in one of his books – I forget which one.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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