Do Left-Handed People Actually Die Sooner? Here's What We Know

If you were left-handed decades ago, you probably had it pretty hard. Many left-handed people were forced to use their right hand for writing. They were even considered to be unlucky, clumsy, or associated with witchcraft. And even now, eating or picking up things with your left hand is considered to be rude in some countries, according to the BBC.

Many myths have floated about people who are left-handed (per Reader's Digest). No, lefties aren't more intelligent or more likely to become leaders, even though there are plenty of intelligent left-handed leaders out there. It's also a myth that lefties are more introverted, which seems to contradict the leader myth. Another common misconception is that lefties are more creative, even though the right brain is often associated with creativity. 

Another rumor you might have heard is that lefties tend to die sooner. This myth proliferated when a 1988 study in Nature found that left-handed baseball players died earlier than their right-handed counterparts. However, this study, and others from the same researchers, have been subject to debate.

Why left-handers might not live as long

The researchers pointed out in the 1988 study in Nature that stressors surrounding left-handed people's birth impeded their longevity. They also suggested that genetics and hormones affected their immune system and that living in a right-handed society made them more prone to accidents. A 1991 article in Psychological Bulletin from the same researchers furthered these ideas, finding almost a 9-year difference in ages of death. However, a 1993 article in Psychological Bulletin challenged these studies, criticizing some of the problems with the sampling and statistical analysis.

Another 1993 study that was published in Neuropsychologia tested two hypotheses that might explain the discrepancy between right and left-handers in terms of old age. The elimination hypothesis suggested that the decrease in left-handedness in older people is because left-handers don't live as long. The modification hypothesis indicated that changes in social norms affect the number of left-handers in different age groups.

The findings showed that the prevalence of left-handedness decreased as people got older, with 15.22% of young adults being left-handed, but only 1.67% of those over 80. However, there was an increase in the number of people who had switched from left-handed to right-handed writing as they got older. This supports the idea that changing social norms might explain the differences in left-handedness across age groups, rather than left-handers having shorter lifespans.

Left-handers don't have shorter lifespans

A 2001 study in Laterality used data from the Canadian Study of Health and Aging to test the idea that left-handed people might have a shorter lifespan than right-handed people. They looked at a group of individuals over the age of 65 who were evaluated in 1991 and followed up in 1995 and 1996. At the start of the study, there was a slight decrease in the number of left-handed individuals as people got older. However, when they looked at the mortality (death) rates during the follow-up, they discovered that being left-handed did not significantly increase the risk of death in this group of elderly Canadians. In other words, they didn't find evidence that left-handed people tend to live shorter lives compared to right-handed people.

More recent analyses of older data have also found no differences in longevity between left and right-handers. A 2023 study in Archives in Public Health used a computer model to explain the differences in longevity between right and left-handed people using the data from deaths in 1989. Although they found a similar discrepancy as the 1991 article in Psychological Bulletin, the reason for these differences was that their left-handedness changed over the years. Ultimately, the differences in age at death were not significantly different, suggesting that being left-handed may not significantly affect how long someone lives.