Southpaws may finally be getting the upper hand. Left-handed men are paid better than their right-oriented counterparts, new research has shown.
They earn 4% more per hour than right-handed workers, according to economists at University College Dublin.
The finding should be some compensation for centuries of being considered evil and clumsy. Left-handers have long been associated with the negative — the word for left in Latin is sinister, while in French it is gauche, whereas to be right-handed is dextrous and adroit. Even the Irish for left-handed, ciotach, means awkward.
Among Ireland’s successful left-handers are Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach, Pierce Brosnan, the actor, and Louise Kennedy, the fashion designer. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the world’s richest man, is also a left-hander, as are the actresses Nicole Kidman and Lisa Kudrow, who played dippy Phoebe in Friends.
With left-handers having to struggle in a world geared to their right-favouring comrades, the researchers expected to find they were paid less. Common everyday objects are designed for right-handed people. Kennedy, for example, has to use a special left-handed scissors while designing because she cannot cut with a normal version.
“If I had to put money on it at the time I would have expected a negative effect on earnings,” said Kevin Denny, lecturer in UCD’s school of economics. “It’s easy to think of reasons of why there might be negative effects on left-handers because they are living in a right-handed world. They are more accident prone and have more health problems.”
However, the positive effect on earnings found by being left-handed backs up psychological evidence suggesting that they are more creative. Denny points to neurological studies which have shown that left-handers, particularly males, are better at divergent thought — or thinking outside the box. They are also better able to deal with completely new situations because it is the right hemisphere of the brain, which controls the left side of the body, that is used in these cases. “This may explain why left-handers have some advantage in dealing with novelty — they are more inclined to use the right hemisphere of their brain than their left,” said Denny.
Their ability to adapt in previously unknown situations may single them out favourably in their bosses’ eyes. “It is hard to believe that employers discriminate in favour of left-handers,” said Denny. “So the most obvious explanation for paying them more is that they bring something to the table that right-handers don’t have.”