Objective Evidence collected in many parts of the world suggests that, compared to older students, students who are relatively younger at school entry tend to have worse academic performance and lower levels of income. This study examined how relative age in a grade affects suicide rates of adolescents and young adults between 15 and 25 years of age using data from Japan. Method We examined individual death records in the Vital Statistics of Japan from 1989 to 2010. In contrast to other countries, late entry to primary school is not allowed in Japan. We took advantage of the school entry cutoff date to implement a regression discontinuity (RD) design, assuming that the timing of births around the school entry cutoff date was randomly determined and therefore that individuals who were born just before and after the cutoff date have similar baseline characteristics. Results We found that those who were born right before the school cutoff day and thus youngest in their cohort have higher mortality rates by suicide, compared to their peers who were born right after the cutoff date and thus older. We also found that those with relative age disadvantage tend to follow a different career path than those with relative age advantage, which may explain their higher suicide mortality rates. Conclusion Relative age effects have broader consequences than was previously supposed. This study suggests that policy intervention that alleviates the relative age effect can be important.
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