Can Your Birth Year Dictate Your Potential To Succeed?

Anum Hussain
Anum Hussain



Think about your success for a moment. Passion, hard work, and dedication have likely contributed to where you are today.

But have you ever thought that the year were born was a factor? 

I know I haven't. But bestselling author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell has.

In one of his top business books, Outliers, Gladwell dives into the story of success, exploring why some succeed and others don't. We summarized the entire 400-page book into just 15-pages (which you can grab here). In this post, I'll review his thesis on time as a success factor.

First, let's define Outlier.

  • something (or someone) classified differently from a main or related group.
  • a stats term to describe an observation that's markedly different than others in a sample. 

In his book, Gladwell shares that the time and place you were born can influence your luck and opportunity.

He conveys this through extensive research on various time periods from 1870 to 1956. Below we walk through the full timeline and what happened if you were born during any part of history Gladwell examined. 



1860s - 1870s

Finding: In the list of the richest people in history, 14/75 are American’s born during this decade.

Reasoning: This was a time of great change. The industrial revolution was taking off as railways were being built across America. Business was thriving and Wall Street was starting up. People were better equipped to succeed and nurture their children to succeed. 



Early 1900s (Before 1913)

Finding: Those born in the early 1900s were less fortunate than those born after 1913.

Reasoning: These people faced the great flu epidemic, the First World War, the Great Depression, and then were still young enough to be recruited into the Second world war (assuming they survived the previous events). This extreme situations and historical events inhibited their ability to focus on work and succeed.




Finding: Those born in this exact year were likely to get jobs at better firms.

Reasoning: In 1935, there were 600,000 fewer babies born than the average, which meant smaller class sizes across their education. This resulted in overall less competition (and a greater chance) to get a spot on the top sports teams or admission into the top colleges, resulting in getting a good job at one of the better firms.  



1953 to 1956

Finding: All of the Silicon Valley's top IT entrepreneurs were born between these three years. 

Reasoning: January 1975 was when Popular Electronics ran a cover story on an extraordinary do-it-yourself contraption that could be assembled at home. Gladwell notes that this was the dawn of the personal computer age, and those who could innovate off it had to fall in the right age range - they couldn't be too young and not ready, but they couldn't be too far out of college that they had already settled in a house with kids. That left those generally born between 1953 and 1956, such as Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. 

Overall Gladwell shows us that some people have an innate advantage simply because they were born at the right times. That’s not to say that being born at the right time guarantees success. But this is where one of the key points of his book comes into play –  when opportunity presents itself, seize it.

You can download the summary below to get the full overview of Gladwell's book here.

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