The Day You Were Born:
Good to Party, Good to Go
It didn’t take too long for this one to get spoiled too. As much as one looks forward to it, according to a recent study, your own birthday may be a health hazard to you. But as you simply can’t stay clear from it, as you’ve wished pretty much since your 30th came and went like a night thief, there’s not much point in such a research, now is there?
And here’s another finding making people wonder, wasn’t anything else worthier finding? When it comes to births, not all days are equal and some produce more Americans than others. Now just imagine that, in old times, anyone armed with these two sets of data could become a king, an oracle, or at least, save themselves from a nice bonfire put up to send them off, birthdays be damned.
Both researches, as rigorously scientific and statistically sound they may be, may cater only to the kind of data-consuming lonely heart, who spends days uncovering hidden clues in newspaper articles and revels in writing passionate letters to the editor. We know it well, because we could be as well just like them. But this being another zany post, we’re running with it.
A word to the weary, though. Our brain is trained to see coincidences, even when statistically, what’s coinciding may be just an inevitability. Also, with help from computers to crunch and cross reference astronomical amounts of data, even the science of statistics can be misleading, by predisposing the researcher to see trends where there aren’t any. For more on that, read again the second sentence of this graph.
It’s never too much to add too that this kind of study may have a built-in self-fulfilling predicament in it. Impressionable minds are prone to seek clues for the ‘right time‘ to act upon deep-seated resolutions. Then again, their breaking point may come at much less explicit conditions, so to speak, or for no apparent reason at all. Now these afflicted souls have one more reason to be fearful.
LET US COUNT THE DAYS
For many people, life can be an exercise of swimming against the tide, if they believe that it’s what drives them forward, and then turn backwards to the opposite direction, when, well, the tide changes. Problem with that is to know exactly when it’s time to switch gears, and many an unaware swimmer has drowned just by guessing it wrong. No salmon was harmed in the writing of this sentence, by the way.
So, after the moment it took you to digest the above piece of useless commentary, what the Swiss Annals of Epidemiology study found was that, for 14 percent of 2.4 million cases, the guessing game was over just as it started. A seemingly random event, albeit much celebrated, of one’s own birthday, just a few years down the road. Or upriver, we’re no longer sure.
The research conducted by a team led by Dr. Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross, covered 40 years of recorded data, and offered some insights about the so called art of living, partying and dying, not necessarily in this order. Some were not new, as the fact that the probability of demise upon one’s birthday increases with age.
Either by heart attacks, strokes or suicides, apparently some just realize on their date, that they had just about enough. Yet some findings are puzzling, as to why there’s a 44% increase of deaths by fall on or around one’s birthday? And, as in many similar stats, there’s still no clear explanation for the fact that men are much more likely to go than women.
By now, you must start wondering whether was there any reason at all to celebrate your birthday in the years passed, since unbeknownst to you, you were this close to your own passing. Or that you could’ve just as well lived without learning about this information, a definite poison to be associated with birthdays of everyone you know for years to come.
But whether one dies on their birthday or just dies, period, at any time, it’s completely out of our control, at least, if we can help it. And that’s a good thing. It’s hard enough to put together the guests list, think about the presents, the date, the booze, for one to, on top of all that, be making a few phone calls to the local funeral service too, just in case.
LIKELY DATES TO BE BORN
Eight years ago, Harvard Kennedy School public policy professor Amitabh Chandra compiled birth date figures in the U.S. from 1973 to 1999. It was a curious, albeit limited, set of data that went mostly unnoticed by all. That is, until NPR’s Matt Stiles republished it, with a few additions designed to enhance what the graphic seemed to show: that birthdays follow a pretty regular pattern.
But before you ask, what’s the point, then, the data does reveal a certain subtle preference for some days over others, for people to have babies, even though we all know about the vagaries surrounding that moment when the little being pops up; it’s rarely on time. As it turned out, different people gathered different conclusions about the same set of data.
So while initially Sept. 16 seemed to be a pretty common day to be born in the U.S.A., and January 1st one of the least ‘attractive’ days to come to light into this ‘valley of tears,’ as the graphic seemed to indicate, the raw number of births in fact revealed a pretty well carved (George Washington Carver, by the way, was celebrating his 79th year, when he died, 71 years ago today) amount of bundle-of-joy-kind of news for Americans.
Overall, at least some 3.1 million births are registered in this country every month, with August showing a slight upwards trend in the past decade, reaching 3.7 million on a consistent basis. Thus, taking into consideration the ‘facts of life,’ December is, after all, a time for hope in the future, as more people embark into this challenging adventure of bringing another being into the world.
They’re more likely to succeed today than in ancient times, of course, when conditions were rougher and there was no way of comparing what they were going though with recorded history. Then again, too much data can be confusing and inconclusive, so perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise for those who lived then, and not an option for our contemporaries, us included.
TILL THE END OF TIME
Either way, there’s no discernible advantage in passing or surviving yet another birthday, except that it may save some room in your tombstone. One thing is for sure, though: it’s an immense benefit to all of us not having any way of knowing when our time is up. Imagine what an insufferable bore we would all be, even more than we’re already, and some even more than others.
But whether it was by chance or some secret power they certainly will never let us in, there has been a number of famous people who have gloriously died on their birthday. Actually, not always gloriously, and they may not even be the majority of those who go on such a exquisitely placed position on their personal vital calendar.
Among those, besides botanist Carver, there’s jazz musician Sidney Bechet, who’s left us at 62 in 1959; Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, at 67 in 1982; author Betty Friedan at 85, and talk show host Mike Douglas at 81, both in 2006, to name those better known in the U.S. And that universal name that tends to unhinge every single stats whenever it’s invoked: William Shakespeare.
Arguably the greatest writer in the English language, whose very own identity remains covered in controversy, he’s believed to have been born in the 26th of April of 1564, and died 52 years later on the same date. But that’s how far the record goes. As any amateur Oxfordian would tell you, that information matches only a merchant who went by that name, no mention to any literary prowess associated to it.
HASTA LA VISTA, BABY
Be as it may, you couldn’t cash in any of this information, of course. That is, unless you are Jamie Dimon, in which case, not just most banks but several branches of the government would be willing to accommodate an outstanding withdrawal as collateral. Since he is, and you’re definitely not, we’re back to the reality of guesses and apparent coincidences.
That shouldn’t be an excuse to make you all gloomy doomy, though. Alas, neither Mr. Dimon nor you are slated to meet your maker anytime soon, as far as the data can tell. And unlike even him, no one seems to hold any inside information on this one, for that matter. So go ahead and party like it’s 2016, oops, like as ever. Just proceed with caution, as always. Watch your cholesterol, don’t drink too much, stop smoking, and all that buzzkilling stuff.
The best advice is usually no advice at all. When it comes to our own demise, no news is the best news. Just remember: we’re seven billion and have been a multiple of that number, if you’re counting from the recorded beginning. Chances are, every single day, millions die and millions are born, millions celebrate their birthdays and millions kick the bucket.
There’s really nothing to be done about it. Isn’t statistics fun? For behind their patina of strict science, the fact remains that they’re built upon exact data compiled in an inexact way. Haven’t they told you that if it was up to science, the butterfly wouldn’t fly? Or the wasp, we’re no longer sure. Let the dogs bark, dear reader; your caravan is bound to reach its destination, no matter what.
* Originally published on June 20, 2012.
* Good Morning to All
* Born on Christmas
At the very end, you ask, “Isn’t statistics fun?” My answer is, “No, unless you’re a politician” — lol
I would like to think that everyday’s a blessing (even the crappy ones) for they give us meaning. Have a happy day, particularly if it’s not your birthday! 😉
Found this very interesting to think about. Is it your birthday by chance? 🙂
Hahaha. Not nearly. Brian Wilson’s and, last Monday, Paul McCartney’s, as you probably know.