There are many things in life that can be self-determined – but not everything. Success is not always the result of good planning and hard work. No one can avoid chance – or luck. We have identified seven success factors that are subject to the power of chance.
1. Place of birth: Swiss babies are lucky
The lottery of life begins with when and where we are born. According to the “Where-to-be-born index,” babies born in Switzerland have the greatest chance of a healthy, secure and successful life. This is followed by Australia and Norway (Germany: 16th place, France: 26th place). Prosperity indicators (including forecasts up to 2030), crime rates, health indicators, trust in institutions and demographic trends were some of the factors included in the assessment. In the index of children born in 1988, the USA still ranked first, followed by France and (West) Germany. Switzerland was ranked 13th at the time. The USA plunged to 16th place in 2013, mainly due to the gigantic debt burden that babies will inherit.
2. Date of birth: the earlier in the year, the more successful
Your birthday also influences your career. As a general rule, the earlier we are born within a year, the more successful we are in life. According to studies, the main reason for this is that children who are older and more mature tend to receive more support from teachers. For example: in the USA the relatively oldest children in a class are 11 percent more likely to go to university. This relative age effect also applies to sports: children born early in the year are more athletically developed than their younger classmates and receive more encouragement. The most famous example: about 40 percent of North America’s ice hockey professionals were born between January and March, with only 10% born between October and December.
3. Constellation of siblings: the only-child advantage
The constellation of siblings plays an essential role in our lives. Older brothers and sisters are generally more successful than their younger siblings. They often hold senior management positions and earn significantly more. In addition, more than half of all Nobel laureates and US presidents are the oldest child in the family. The underlying assumption is that firstborn children live their first years as an only child and thus receive more attention and support from their parents. This thesis is supported by the fact that children without siblings are the most successful at work. But only children are less fortunate in their private lives: they find it harder to build long-term relationships and divorce more often, probably because siblings are important social partners in their childhood. And the more siblings you have, the better: each additional sibling reduces the likelihood of divorce by 3 percent.
4. Height: 250 euros per centimetre
There is the so-called Napoleon Complex (short man syndrome), whereby shorter men compensate for their lack of height with particularly assertive personalities. However: taller people tend to be more successful at work and, on average, enjoy a higher social standing. US presidents, senators and CEOs, for example, are of above-average height. Moreover, taller people also have higher incomes. One centimetre more in height accounts both in the UK and Germany for around 250 euros more in gross salary per year. This is true for both men and women. According to psychologists, archaic patterns work: we unconsciously associate height with competence, strength and assertiveness. Tall people are thus more likely to be seen as leaders, and people are intuitively more willing to submit to them.
5. First name: the shorter the better
Our name has a surprising influence on our career. Names that are easy to pronounce are rated more positively than those that are difficult to pronounce. And the shorter the first name, the better. According to studies, men with a one-syllable or two-syllable first name occupy a higher hierarchical position in their jobs than those with longer first names. American CEOs often only have four letters in their first names. In Germany, people with a two-syllable first name earn an average of 8% less than people with just one syllable in their first names. Those with a three-syllable name earn 18 percent less. Psychologists explain the “name pronunciation effect” as people’s need for simplicity. Short names are more memorable and easier to understand internationally.
6. Last name: A beats Z
Not only a person’s first name, but also the first letter of the last name plays a role in one's professional career. Researchers found that people whose last names begin with a letter towards the end of the alphabet do not perform as well on average at school, in the labour market and therefore at the start of their careers. They suspect that those affected are offered fewer opportunities due to the alphabetical sorting of lists of names. Another study shows that it is easier to get a permanent position at a university if your last name begins with a letter towards the front of the alphabet. The earlier the first letter of the last name appears in the alphabet, the more likely it is that the person will be appointed as a professor. The lesson for those affected: those who are further down in the alphabet have to attract attention in a different way.
7. The successor phenomenon: consequential decisions by other people
Of course, one’s own life also depends to a great extent on how other people decide and act. A special sub-form of coincidence is the so-called “successor phenomenon.” Julia Roberts would never have become a “Pretty Woman” and thus a world star if her colleague Sandra Bullock hadn’t turned down the role she was first offered. The career of 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein might have been quite different if he hadn’t filled in at short notice for the conductor who had fallen ill and suddenly become world-famous thanks to an unrehearsed concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The successor phenomenon, however, doesn’t only occur in show business, but also in our everyday lives, for example with university places where waiting lists are kept. Whether or not someone gets the desired place often depends on the decisions made by complete strangers.