I’m still not sure which hand will turn out to be my 20-month-old daughter’s dominant one, but I’ve been telling people I would be pleased if she turned out to be left handed. My husband and I are both lefties, so I think it would be neat to be a whole lefty family. New research, however, suggests I might want to rethink that.

An ominously-titled study, The Wages of Sinistrality: Handedness, Brain Structure, and Human Capital Accumulation, by Harvard economist Joshua Goodman, has found that we left handed folks – roughly 12% of the population – are at a pretty big disadvantage compared with our right-handed peers.

We earn 6%-12% less money, have more behavioural problems, have more learning disabilities, complete less schooling, and work in jobs that require less cognitive skill.

Goodman writes, “Lefties exhibit economically and statistically significant human capital deficits relative to righties.”

Say it ain’t so.

This report flies in the face of perceptions many of us have of southpaws as being smarter, more creative, and generally better than righties in every way. OK, maybe that’s not exactly how everyone would put it, but you know what I mean, right?

Granted there was a time, as Goodman points out, that left-handedness was viewed with suspicion. That would be the Middle Ages: Goodman says, according to the Telegraph, “During the Middle Ages, left-handed writers were thought to be possessed by the Devil, generating the modern sense of the word sinister from sinistra, the Latin word for left. The English word left itself comes from the Old English lyft, meaning idle, weak, or useless. The French word for left, gauche, also means clumsy or awkward.”

But, lately, we’ve enjoyed a general mystique of superiority. Have we not? Goodman also writes, “Sinistrality, or left-handedness, does however have modern proponents who argue that lefties are more likely to be creative superstars than righties. Anecdotal evidence for this includes the fact that four of the last seven US presidents have been left-handed (Ford, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama) and one ambidextrous (Reagan).” (Or, put in a simpler way, the last four U.S. presidents were left handed.)

Then there are all those other famous lefties everyone likes to point to – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Winston Churchill, Isaac Hayes, Kermit the Frog – but I guess, if we’re honest with ourselves, the fact that one can actually make a list of famous lefties suggests that there aren’t actually that many compared to righties. So, even if you account for the ratio, is the number of famous, smart successful lefties, disproportionate? I can’t find any studies that suggest so. So, Goodman might be right in his postulation that the evidence to date is anecdotal.


Though maybe being a “creative superstar” is a separate issue from a 6% earnings difference and higher incidence of behavioural problems.

Other research also confirms suggestions of higher incidence of learning disabilities, as well as immune disease and migraine. On the bright side, Norman Geschwind, a Harvard Neurologist known for his research in the field, and the one who discovered many of these links, told the New York Times in 1983, “Until you look at the full range of conditions and overall life expectancy among left-handed people, you cannot say whether it’s a disadvantage. It could be that left-handed people have only half the rate of lung cancer that right-handed people do.”

Goodman in his report also says there are two types of lefties: those for whom it’s in their DNA, and those who are lefties because they suffered some kind of in-utero trauma. He writes, “Those likely be left-handed due to genetics show smaller or no deficits relative to righties, suggesting the importance of environmental shocks as the source of disadvantage.”

So, look at your mom. Apparently, we’re more likely to get our handedness from our mothers. If you’re left handed and she’s not, well, I guess the situation is potentially dire.

Uh oh. My mom is right handed.

Whatever. We’ll always have Kermit.