Our little girl is showing a tendancy for using her left hand. Now, I know that it’s probably too early to tell for sure, but Kate’s a leftie and there is some evidence that it can be inherited. Even so, between 7 – 10% of the population is left-handed. So I was wondering what it would mean for her to grow up left-handed, and I remembered that fact about fencers.
Apparently left-handers have an advantage in many competitive sports. Close to half of the 16 top fencers worldwide are left-handed. However, there is also significantly greater than 10% left-handers in sports like tennis, boxing, squash, badminton, cricket, and baseball. Although various sports have specific advantages for left-handers (an obvious one in baseball is that left-handed batters are closer to first base), the general rule is that the the majority of the sporting population – the right-handers – have little chance to practice against them. So, the main source of their advantage is the fact that they are a minority.
Perhaps this is generalisable beyond left-handers? Is there a “law” that minority groups have an advantage over the majority in competitive situations? While the minority group will naturally have regular opportunities to compete with members of the majority, the majority group will have fewer opportunities to compete against the minority. In situations where it is person-to-person competition, and familiarity and practice make a difference, you would expect a greater percentage of the minority group (than their percentage of the overall population) to be in the ranks of the most successful.
In many situations, being in a minority may be a disadvantage in itself, but perhaps this law indicates that sometimes that disadvantage is more than made up for by the law of minority advantage? For example, the women that I know in engineering/IT disciplines probably make up more of the senior ranks than their overall percentage in engineering might suggest. Or maybe my sample is biased in some way, but it’s interesting to ponder.
I wonder if it applies in the field of executive/personal assistants, where men tend to be in the minority. Do men tend to do better than the percentage of their participation in this field would suggest?
In theory, the smaller the minority group the greater the advantage gained. Left-handers are about 1 in 10 people, which is clearly small enough for the effect to be noticed. I wonder if there are rarer traits (that don’t come with specific disadvantages) that are also more present amongst the successful.
More digging around would be needed to see whether this principle could be extended more broadly, so I might come back to this later when I’ve got more data. Although, given the amount of free time I’ve had recently, Harriet might be grown up by that point.