While researching last weeks article on left handed athletes, I remembered the old myth that left handed people on average die nine years sooner. Where did that statistic come from, was it statistically accurate, and should I be writing my will now? Then I stumbled across an article from the BBC.
The article raises the same concerns that I raised, mostly because the author has family that is also ‘cursed’ with the left-handedness. Through Hannah Barnes’s journalistic research, the author discovered that there was no way this myth could be fact. Chris McManus a professor at University College London and a published author explained that in order to have the nine years less life expectancy, one would have to smoke “120 cigarettes a day…(and do) a number of other dangerous things simultaneously.” So there we have it. There is literally no medical reason why left handed people would die sooner, so what is the history of this myth.
The reason why we have this insane myth around is due to terrible timing by the researchers of this claim. The researchers, Halpern and Coren looked at recent death reports, called families of the deceased, and asked which hand was the dominate hand of the recently deceases. After recording hand dominance and age of passing, the researchers found that on average, those with dominate left hands died sooner.
Seems like plausible research right? Yes, but the researchers did not take into account the societal impact of being left handed. In the Victorian period, being left handed was seen as wrong and even evil, causing many people to be ‘in the closet’ about their dominate hand. Schools notoriously did not accept those with a left handed dominance and would force students to write with their right hand. If someone was being bullied and abused for using the so called ‘wrong hand’, then you might as well just lie about which hand you use. As time went on, being left handed became less of a sin and more accepted (in generally western counties). Those being able to come out of their ‘hand closet’ would be much younger than those who hadn’t since society hadn’t even accepted their hand yet, and this is what created that nine year gap. Many of those who had died may have really been left handed, but through the stigma forced themselves to be right handed and therefore the family of the deceased would report their grandma or grandpa as right handed.
Once the deep rooted stigma of the evil left hand dies off and everyone is able to live and work with their dominate hand, this experiment can be redone and we can see if the nine year death difference is myth or fact. Again, unless every single left handed person was smoking like a chimney all day every day, the only thing those with left hands need to worry about are scissors not cutting straight. It’s wonderful to know that I will live long and hopefully prosper despite the large amount of pencil smudging on my assignments.