Birthplace effects: Is it population size or density?

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Journal of Sports Sciences


Contextual influences on talent development (e.g., the birthplace effect) have become a topic of interest for sport scientists. The birthplace effect occurs when being born in a certain city size leads to participation or performance advantages, typically for those born in smaller or mid-sized cities. The purpose of this study was to investigate birthplace effects in Portuguese volleyball players by analysing city size, as well as population density—an important but infrequently used variable. Participants included 4062 volleyball players (Mage = 33), 53.2% of whom were male. Using Portuguese national census data from 1981, we compared participants across 5 population categories. Additionally, we employed ANOVAs to study expertise and population density. Results indicated that athletes (male and female) born in districts of 200,000-399,999 were nearly 2.4 times more likely to attain elite volleyball status, while all other districts decreased the odds of expert development. For male athletes, being born in high-density areas resulted in lower chances of achieving expertise, though no differences existed for female athletes. In the discussion, we explain the impact of these results on birthplace effect research, and offer suggestions for future directions.


This is an Original Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Sports Sciences on 12 January 2017, available online:


birthplace, sport development, youth sport, volleyball


David J. Hancock, Patrícia Coutinho, Jean Côté & Isabel Mesquita (2018) Influences of population size and density on birthplace effects, Journal of Sports Sciences, 36:1, 33-38, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1276614

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