Born at the Wrong Time: Selection Bias in the NHL Draft

Deaner, Robert O.; Lowen, Aaron; Cobley, Stephen
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Relative age effects (RAEs) occur when those who are relatively older for their age group are more likely to succeed. RAEs occur reliably in some educational and athletic contexts, yet the causal mechanisms remain unclear. Here we provide the first direct test of one mechanism, selection bias, which can be defined as evaluators granting fewer opportunities to relatively younger individuals than is warranted by their latent ability. Because RAEs are well-established in hockey, we analyzed National Hockey League (NHL) drafts from 1980 to 2006. Compared to those born in the first quarter (i.e., January–March), those born in the third and fourth quarters were drafted more than 40 slots later than their productivity warranted, and they were roughly twice as likely to reach career benchmarks, such as 400 games played or 200 points scored. This selection bias in drafting did not decrease over time, apparently continues to occur, and reduces the playing opportunities of relatively younger players. This bias is remarkable because it is exhibited by professional decision makers evaluating adults in a context where RAEs have been widely publicized. Thus, selection bias based on relative age may be pervasive.


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