The rise of the underdog? The relative age effect reversal among Canadian-born NHL hockey players: A reply to Nolan and Howell


elite play, hockey, relative age effect


The relative age effect associated with cut-off dates for hockey eligibility has been an ongoing debate in certain academic circles and in the popular media. The effect is primarily found in Canadian Major Junior Hockey, where a disproportionate share of birthdays fall in the first three months of the year. But when the National Hockey League rosters of Canadian-born players are examined, the pattern is less pronounced. Using publically available data of hockey players from 2000–2009, we find that the relative age effect, as described by Nolan and Howell (2010) and Gladwell (2008), is moderate for the average Canadian National Hockey League player and reverses when examining the most elite professional players (i.e. All-Star and Olympic Team rosters). We also find that the average career duration is longer for players born later in the year. In sum, there is a surprising ‘relative age effect reversal’ that occurs from the junior leagues to the most elite level of hockey play. This supports an ‘underdog’ hypothesis, where the relatively younger players are thought to benefit by more competitive play with their older counterparts.

Original Publication Citation

Gibbs, Benjamin G., Jonathan A. Jarvis and Mikaela J. Dufur. “The Rise of the Underdog? The Relative Age Effect Reversal among Canadian-Born NHL Hockey Players: A Reply to Nolan and Howell.” International Review of Sociology of Sport 47:644-649.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



International Review for the Sociology of Sport




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor