Unusual Days in the press

My Melbourne Review paper with Andrew Leigh has itself been reviewed in today’s Sydney Morning Herald and also in the Canberra Times and the Adelaide Advertiser (over the fold):

Parents take leap to avoid baby playing the fool (SMH. 30 May 2007)

Babies are more likely to be born on weekdays rather than weekends and far fewer births occur on inauspicious dates such as April Fool’s Day and February 29, according to a new report.

But nature has nothing to do with the anomalies.

Instead, birth rates are being determined by the preferences of doctors and parents, who can control the timing of births with birth inducements and caesarean section procedures.

The report, by Joshua Gans, professor of management at the Melbourne Business School, and Andrew Leigh, an economist at the Australian National University, was published in The Melbourne Review.

The pair noted that without medical intervention, births would be evenly distributed, with 14 per cent of Australia’s weekly births occurring on any given day.

But on Saturdays, the figure drops to 12 per cent and on Sunday to just 10 per cent.

“The move towards weekday births is caused by the preferences of doctors,” they suggest.

“Like most workers, it seems reasonable to think that obstetricians prefer to work on a weekday than on a weekend, since working on a weekend typically means less time spent with their family and friends.”

The two said their hypothesis was backed up by another statistic – that the birth rate drops by four per cent during weeks when the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists holds its annual conference.

“We found some evidence of an increase in births during the week prior to the conference, probably because obstetricians were scheduling a small number of inducements and caesarean section procedures prior to the conference.”

The pair found that some of the biggest drops in birth rates – between 11 and 16 per cent – occur on the culturally-sensitive dates of February 29 and April 1.

“Since February 29 only occurs every four years, people born on that date must celebrate their birthday on another date in non-leap years.

“Parents might, therefore, think that their child would be better off being born on February 28.

“April 1 is an inauspicious date, since parents might plausibly feel that being born on April Fool’s Day has the potential to stigmatise the child at school and in later life.”

By the way, for the full paper on doctor-patient bargaining, click here, and for the one on conferences, click here.

Choosing birthdays (Canberra Times, 30 May 2007)

FEWER babies are being born at weekends or on ”inauspicious” dates such as February 29 or April 1 as parents and medical practitioners manipulate the birth process, a new study has found. An economist at the Australian National University, Andrew Leigh, and professor of management at the Melbourne Business School Joshua Gans have investigated various factors such as Caesarean sections which affect the timing of births. They found fewer babies were being born on weekends, probably, they assumed, because obstetricians liked having a weekend off as much as any other worker. ”It seems reasonable to think that obstetricians prefer to work on a weekday than on a weekend, since working on a weekend typically means less time spent with their family and friends,” they wrote.

The researchers also noted that ”the move away from weekend births may also be driven by hospital administrators who typically receive a standard payment from the Government or private health insurance companies but have to pay weekend overtime to some staff members”.

Their study also found parents did not want their baby born on February29 because it meant their child would celebrate their real birthday only every leap year. April 1 or April Fool’s Day was also unpopular because it had ”the potential to stigmatise the child at school, and in later life”. Using birth rate data, the researchers found in Australia 11 to 16 per cent of births were shifted off those days each year.

But the baby bonus had the biggest impact on birth dates. Over the past 30 years one date stood out: July 1, 2004. On that day, 978 babies were born in Australia, compared to the usual 600-700 births a day. Parents of a child born from 12.01am on July 1, 2004 were eligible for the then $3000 baby bonus. The researchers estimate 1089 births were shifted from June to July to obtain the payment.

Baby bonus shifts birth dates (Adelaide Advertiser, 30 May 2007)
MORE than 1000 births were “moved” from June to July in the first year of the Federal Government’s baby bonus – some by more than two weeks, a study has found.

July 1, 2004, had the highest number of births of any day in the past 30 years, it found.

Any baby born from 12.01am on July 1, 2004, received the $3000 baby bonus.

“On that date, 978 babies were born,” the study says. “Daily births data provide clear evidence that the introduction of this payment affected the timing of scheduled births.”

Study authors Joshua Gans from Melbourne Business School and Andrew Leigh from the Australian National University made the findings after looking at the control of doctors and patients over the timing of births and deaths.

They estimated 1089 births were shifted to take advantage of the baby bonus – 723 shifted by a week and 366 shifted by more than a fortnight. The study also found parents often moved their child’s expected delivery from February 29 (in a leap year) or April 1 (April Fool’s Day), in the fear their child may be disadvantaged by having a birthday on either of those dates.

“Using daily birth rate data, we found that in Australia about 11 to 16 per cent of births are shifted off those days each year,” the study says.

The study also found fewer babies were born on weekends.

The baby bonus paper is available here.

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