Teenager high school students running in high school hallway

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GRONINGEN, Netherlands — What separates the “popular kids” from all their friends at school? It turns out the answer may simply be their birthday. A new study finds popular children are more likely to be born at the beginning of the academic year, making them older than their peers.

Researchers in the Netherlands say older kids are substantially more likely to receive admiration or respect at school. This can pave the way for stronger feelings of self-worth and even create future health benefits.

The study examined more than 13,000 students between 14 and 15 years-old in the Netherlands, Sweden, and England. However, researchers note the U.K. has slightly different ways of progression throughout a child’s academic career. In England, students move forward regardless of age while in the Netherlands pupils must meet certain requirements or they repeat the grade.

A survey asked students to list the five most popular students in their class. In England, study authors discovered kids born in September, October, and November were substantially more well-liked than peers born in the following year.

Does social status really trump everything else in school?

Dutch students say older kids, regardless of when they’re born, tend to rise in popularity. On the other hand, while popularity may be king for some, other studies warn that likeability is far more important to a child’s development than “status.”

One study reveals those who have status, or a lot of acquaintances as teenagers, actually face more social anxiety and are more likely to have problems with the law. Strong likeability, however, suggests people have a handful of strong, close friendships that benefits them long into adulthood. These youths develop a higher sense of self-worth and better professional, social, and romantic relationships.

“Results indicate a statistically significant positive relation of both past and current relative age with popularity status in classes,” Professor Frank van Tubergen of Utrecht University and the team write in a media release.

“Past relative age, referring to the cut-off date of entering school, is particularly strong in England with a system of social promotion, while current relative age, referring to the age distribution within the classroom, is stronger in the Netherlands which has a system of grade retention.”

The findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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