A Left-Handed Death Sentence?

As a lefty, I have often been teased by friends and strangers alike about my shortcomings with school desks, scissors, and of course binders and spiral notebooks. I’ve proudly displayed my ink smudges post in-class essay or after a fervent session of note-taking. It’s honestly gotten to the point where a person’s discovery of my left-handedness usually goes as follows:

Stranger/New Friend: “Wait, you’re left-handed?”

Me: “Yes, I am in fact spawned by the devil!”

But all joking aside, my least favorite lefty “fact” that people regurgitate is the “left-handed-people-die-earlier” topic. Come on, do you really think I want to hear that? I’m an eighteen-year-old girl with goals and the drive to accomplish them…I don’t you to constantly remind me that I’m expected to die earlier.

But then we discussed the association of wormy kids with bad grades in class, and we learned that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. This situation has three primary possible scenarios:

  1. People who are left-handed are more likely to die earlier.
  2. People who die earlier are more likely to be left-handed.
  3. Left-handedness and early death are both affected by a third variable, but share no relation to each other.

This article from the BBC delves into the different possible reasons behind the lefty/early death correlation. Maybe, it says, early death can be attributed to the ongoing problematic difficulties of using everyday objects, like utensils and office supplies. But Hannah Barnes, the article’s author, doesn’t think something this insignificant, however annoying, could subtract almost ten years from a life. I have to agree. My daily struggles with my knife and fork irk me incessantly; nevertheless, I’ve adapted, and don’t really see something I rarely think about anymore as the cause of my premature death.

But Barnes couldn’t understand why this “myth” still had prevalence, since the evidence behind it didn’t seem sufficient. Chris McManus, a psychology and medical education professor at University College London answered Barnes’ skepticism in his book Right Hand, Left Hand. McManus sees right through the speculation, finding a minor flaw in the research behind it. Researchers studied the death records of Southern Californians, but neglected to pay attention to people living at the time of the study. By omitting case studies of the living, the researchers didn’t take into consideration the rising commonality of being left-handed. At the time of the study, more left handed people were younger, so obviously those who died younger had a higher chance of being left handed, adding to the myth (Barnes).


Image found here

Another factor that boosts the inaccuracy of this myth is the forced right-handedness that occurred during the 1800’s-1900’s. Many lefties were forced to use machinery intended for righties, eventually adapting and becoming fully right-handed. So people who died and were used as data in the study may have been left handed, but known as righties for their entire lives, further complicating the study (Barnes).

After careful thought, I’ve decided that this myth leads to scenario three—that left-handedness and early death are both affected by confounding variables, but share no relation to each other. The other variables are the misconstrued data, consisting of an insufficient data pool (only death records) and an inaccuracy in data (left-handed people becoming right handed). From now on, I’ll be able to have an educated comeback for anyone who tries to tell me that I’ll die prematurely…and I have science to thank for that!

8 thoughts on “A Left-Handed Death Sentence?

  1. Kacey Elizabeth Gill

    Hey Mary!

    I must say I really enjoyed your post and it was very interesting for me to read as a fellow lefty. I too understand what you go through with the constant surprise from strangers and the jokes about our early impending death. I found the image in your article citing data about lefties to be very interesting. It stated that children whose parent’s are both left handed have only a 9% likelihood of being left-handed, and I myself shockingly fall into that 9%. Similarly like stated in your post, I am a victim of attempted “forced right handedness.” My mom tells me stories of how I would pick up a marker in my left hand and they would switch it to my right hand but I would reject them and switch it back. Like you I find it hard to believe that being left handed can cause us to die sooner and that it must be attributed to some third variable. Your post compelled me to do so research of my own and I actually found this article that I think you may find interesting. The point of the article I found most interesting was when it hinted at the fact that left-handed people don’t actually die sooner but they simply more likely to die from “un-natural causes.” This is similar to what we talk about in class with the concept of a third variable. I think that you could have pushed the article even further by talking about what makes a person left handed in the first place and from there you could see if that has any effect on the argument or if it suggests what the possible “third variable” may be.

  2. Griffin Lambert Brooks

    Mary I found this blog to be very interesting when I was scrolling through. I never knew there was so much research that had been done about the myths about left handers! Fortunately I’m a right hander and after reading your blog I think I’m glad. My old english teacher back in high school was left handed and would frequently make remarks about how left handed people are more likely to die young and how inconvenient it was to go to restaurants and never having the correct silverware on each side of the plate, and always getting ink on your hand when you write on a piece of paper because your hand comes after the ink when you write. Im sorry for all the struggles you have as a lefty but here are some reasons why it’s a good thing to be a lefty!

  3. Monica Lynn Powell

    Mary, you did a great job with this blog! I had never heard of this insane myth before and am so sorry you’ve been bogged down by it. I think it is brilliant how you tied in our discussions from class and totally agree with your conclusion. My brother is ambidextrous so now I’m curious where they fit into this discussion. Are they included with the left handed group or right? Or should they be a totally separate group? I wonder if anyone took this into consideration when researching the credibility of this myth? Anyway, I think it’s great that you are left handed! Here’s a link explaining the advantages that left handed people have over right handed people.

  4. Brooke Barrett

    Although I am not left-handed, I have family members that are left-handed. This blog really caught my attention because I have never heard of this myth and that is probably because I am right-handed. When you mentioned how between the 1800’s and 1900’s they forced left-handed people to become right handed, a thought came to mind. What about those who were right-handed and became left-handed? I know that I have tried a few times to learn how to write with my left hand and I am sure some others have tried this as well. Some people could have been successful and others, like myself, not so successful. But if that were the case, in today’s world, how many of those people registered with being left-handed? That could also be something to look at with the data error you mentioned.

  5. Rachel Sara Anton

    Hey Mary!

    Although I am not left-handed, I found this post to be super interesting. I remember one of my science teacher’s in high school telling his left-handed students that they were going to die sooner, and I was shocked. Isn’t it crazy that these types of wishy-washy theories are taught as if they are automatically true without any research? I think you did a great job analyzing this topic through correlation and causation. I definitely agree with you about a confounding variable being the cause of this craziness. My high school science teacher should check out your blog, that’s for sure.

    Did you know there is a Left Handers Day? Enjoy this link consisting of famous lefties and the date to Left Handers Day!

  6. Taylor Weinstein

    Hello Mary,
    While reading your blog post and thinking about the problem and things people have said to you because your left handed, people have said things to me because I had red hair. “Oh, your a ginger that means you have no soul” This is also a myth as well for me. For me I never believe the myths or what people say about me. Just like when you hear that your going to die early i don’t like hearing I don’t have a soul or I’m not smart just because I have red hair. I have daily struggles but also am grateful because being a redhead is very rare there aren’t many so it helps and I don’t believe the myths because they are just that…myths not true. There is an article of the common myths. For example: there is 1-2% of the population has red hair, and a bad correlation: In a tradition in Poland states, if you pass three redheads in a row, you will win the state lottery. Talking about in our class this has nothing to do with each other and that is not something thats true. This correlation is something that happens a lot like another example: Greek mythology says redheads turn to vampires after death. All in all these are just myths and no has nothing to do with the other. This article states more about the myths of redheads.

  7. Katrina Burka

    Hi Mary, this blog post caught my eye immediately because like you, I’m a fellow left hander. (RIP) At the bottom of the article you explained how in the 1800-1900s, people tried to force left handers to be right handed. That is actually because it was believed left handers were controlled by the devil. My dad actually tried to make me right handed when I was younger…it didn’t work. I found it really helpful that you related this problem directly back to our course material, laying out the three possibilities and further explaining why, or why not they worked. A way I would like to take this direction is asking what causes people to be either left or right handed? Is it genetics? Chance? And, how does being left handed affect one’s brain wave patterns? Below is a video explaining why some people are left handed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPvMUpcxPSA

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