International Left Handers Day
August 13th is International Left-handers’ Day. As a leftie myself I’m always intrigued by the slew of articles that appear at this time of year with titles like, ‘Seven Facts You Never Knew About Left-Handers!’
The ‘facts’ are nearly always about how creative we are versus how clumsy we are, and one of the ‘facts’ which nearly always features in these lists is that those of us who are left-handed will die on average nine years earlier than our right-handed counterparts. Yikes! But is it actually true? Has anyone really checked this out?
I did a little research and discovered that this ‘fact’ is based on two articles written by psychologists – one published in the 80s and one in the 90s. The articles were published in respected scientific journals, which gave them some gravitas. But why are lefties dying up to a decade earlier than everyone else? Are we slipping while using right-handed scissors and knives then bleeding out on the way to A&E? It seems pretty unlikely. Some 10-11% of the population are left-handed. If this were the case the streets would surely be awash with blood! Someone would have noticed, and ‘handedness’ would be the largest single predictor of life-expectancy!
According to modern psychologists, who re-examined these studies, the previous researchers had made a small error. The original studies were carried out in Southern California, where lists are published of everyone who has died. The researchers used the lists to contact the relatives of 2000 of the deceased to ask whether they had been left or right-handed. Clearly data protection was less of an issue in the late 20th Century! They found the oft-quoted figure that the left-handers died on average nine years earlier than their right-handed neighbours. But crucially the original researchers ONLY looked at the age at death, not when they died. Left handers are actually more common now than previously…or at least it appears we are. In fact, from the 1800s until the 1950s many left-handers were forced to live as right-handers, by teachers, or parents, or simply by the fact that most machinery in factories was designed for right-handers to use. Certainly, I can remember even as a child of the 70s being forced to write with my right hand by certain less enlightened staff at my village primary school. So, it’s probable that some of the dead people on those Californian lists may have been born left-handed but spent most of their lives living as right-handers, and their families would have described them as such when the researchers called. Because of this historical discrimination many of those on the lists who were ‘out’ as left handers at least at the time the research was published would have been on average younger than right-handers and this would have skewed the results.
So fellow lefties, the idea that we will die nine years earlier than the righties is a myth. PHEW!
It’s true we may appear a little clumsier than right-handers but that is probably due to living in a world not designed for us. It does not affect our mortality…though I might just leave carving the Sunday joint to my right-handed husband!
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