The Independent, 2 November 2011

The thing is that if you’re planning to have children in the next year or so, you need to hold fire until December at the earliest. Sorry if you were expecting a seductive, reproductive weekend away this month, but it just isn’t going to happen. Not unless you want to curse your child to a summer-birth and consequent life of underachievement and misery.

A new report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown that August-born seven-year-olds are between 2.5 and 3.5 times more likely to be regarded as ‘below average’ by their teachers in reading, writing and maths. Given that they are below average in terms of age, as some of their classmates will be almost a year older than them, this doesn’t seem terribly surprising.

What is both surprising and depressing is that this birthday-related failure apparently dogs the summer-born throughout their lives: they are both more likely to be bullied at school, and 20% less likely to go to a Russell Group university, compared with the smug September-born, who are always the oldest in their class. They are also more likely to have lower confidence and less likely to feel they ‘control their own destiny’, probably caused by reading reports saying their lives were over before they even began.

Regular readers of this column will know that I don’t have children, preferring to limit my social circle to those who can make a good mojito. But even if I were more inclusive, I think I’d still give childbirth a miss, partly because I don’t have a spare bedroom, but mainly because it seems that the day you have a baby is the day when you basically agree that everything you ever do is wrong and has probably ruined the life of your offspring for ever.

I think it might just be the case that we should stop producing research which can only make people feel miserable about things they can’t change. Parents of summer-born children who’ve just started school can surely do without being told of another thing they should be flagellating themselves for screwing up. Not only should they have copped off with their significant others in a different month, they should also have found time between feeds to campaign for a more flexible start to the school year.

So while I realise that individual examples don’t refute statistical norms, let’s take a moment to celebrate a few August-born children who did beat the odds: Herman Melville, PD James, Sam Mendes, Cecil B DeMille, Robert Redford, Steven Berkoff, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ted Hughes, Howard Jacobson, Martin Amis and Goethe. Not forgetting Neil Armstrong, who should remind any child of August that no-one can stop them reaching the stars.