According to researchers at Tulane University and Ghent University, younger students tend to have fewer friends and a weaker social network compared to older classmates.
To understand the impact age has on social skills and well-being, researchers studied 400,000 students between the ages of 10 and 17, from 31 European countries.
The research also found that students who are the youngest, typically those born early in the year due to the common school system that sees students born from September to August of the following year placed in the same grade, communicate differently in addition to having fewer friends.
The study found that these students prefer to interact with their friends through technological devices rather than in-person.
Previous findings have found younger students perform less well, are more likely to be bullied, less likely to take on leadership roles in school, and struggle with sport activities in comparison to older classmates.
According to the researchers, the new findings are not a coincidence, but instead show the detrimental effects of being the youngest in class.
“This result is not a simple statistical curiosity,” said Stijn Baert, professor at Ghent University. “Weaker social relationships could imply worse development of social skills and relationships in the long-term, and thus affect well-being and success in the labour market.
“It also feeds worse satisfaction with students’ life, which is a good predictor of their life-dissatisfaction at an adult age. Building on the result from our research, future studies should dig deeper into this time evolution and its economic impact.”
One possible solution could be enrolling younger students in youth soccer teams, which typically group players by those born January to December, according to Professor Baert.
As the youngest students would then be the oldest students on the team, sport activities may help them “form and enjoy stronger social relationships, which could counterbalance their disadvantageous situation at school," he explained.
However, further research is required to see if the strategy “actually works,” according to Professor Baert.