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What is the chance of having a left handed child?

This article was written by Keith Milsom, owner of Anything Left-Handed, in response to lots of questions from Left Handers Club members.

About 10% of the world’s population are left-handed and it seems that left-handedness runs in families, with the handedness of the mother being an important factor. So what are the chances of having a left-handed child?

Various studies have shown that around 10% of the world’s population are naturally left-handed and that this seems to be a fairly consistent figure over a long period of time and in all countries and cultures. The way left-handedness is measured and the fact that many cultures deliberately suppress left-handedness complicate the picture, but left-handedness seems to stay at about that level anyway. More recent studies among children show a higher level, may be increasing.

It also seems to run in families, although no gene for left-handedness has been isolated and it is not possible to predict left-handedness in the same way as, say, eye colour. What we do know is that the more left-handers you have in the family, the more chance of having left-handed children. The probabilities of various left-right parent combinations having a left-handed child vary quite a lot depending on which research you look at.

Right hand, left hand book

Dr Chris McManus reported in his book Right Hand, Left Hand on a study he had done based on a review of scientific literature which showed parent handedness for 70,000 children. On average, the chances of two right-handed parents having a left-handed child were around 9% left-handed children, two left-handed parents around 26% and one left and one right-handed parent around 19%.

In The Left-Handers Handbook, Diane Paul repeated this and also noted that Left-handed mothers are more likely to have left-handed children than left-handed fathers. This was based on research done by Stanley Coren for his book The Left Hander Syndrome, where he showed the chances of two right-handed parents having a left-handed child were around 10%, a right-handed mother and left-handed father the same, 10%, left-handed mother and right-handed father 20% and two left-handed parents 35%.

A large survey carried out by Anything Left-Handed showed that only 1.4% of left-handers who responded had two left-handed parent, 24% had one left-handed parent and 75% had two right-handed parents.

Are all these numbers consistent with each other?

If those percentages are true, would the level of left-handedness in the population as a whole stay at a consistent level?

I have produced a model that calculates the mix of handedness in parents and then multiples by the assumed probabilities for each mix having left-handed children to calculate the total number of left-handed children and their percentage of the population. For example, if 10% of the population is left-handed, only 1% of all couples will be made up of two left-handers (like me an my wife, but there is a theory that left-handers attract each other which would distort this, but that is for another article!).

Putting Chris McManus’s percentages into the model shows an increase from 10% to 11.5% in the level of left-handedness in the population in one generation and if that continued for very long left-handers would no longer be in the minority! Stanley Coren’s figures, although quite different, also give an increase in left-handedness to 11.2% and neither of them give a match to the figures from the Anything Left-Handed survey. Most significantly, the number of left-handed children with two left-handed parents is 2.3% for McManus and 3.1% for Coren. To get down to the level of only 1.4% found in the Anything Left-Handed survey, the chances of two left-handed parents having a left-handed child need to be reduced to around 14% – much closer to the other parent mixes.

Juggling the figures to get the best match to all these results, plus also keeping the level of left-handedness stable at around 10%, these probabilities of having a left-handed child seem to fit:

Two right handed parents, 9%
Left handed father, 12%
Left handed mother, 16%
Two left handed parents, 20%

There are many more variables that affect these figures and one study showed that left-handers have less children on average that right handers. This is meant to be a guide rather than a scientific conclusion.

However, whichever set of assumptions you use, some interesting figures come out:

  • More than 50% of left-handers do not know of any other left-hander anywhere in their living family.
  • Around 75% of left-handers have two right-handed parents and only 2% have two left-handed parents.
  • Between 7 and 8 out of 10 children born to two left handed parents will be right handed.

Of course, the chances of having a left-hander in the family increase the more children you have. So there is still hope for right-handed parents – if you have enough children, you may still be lucky enough to have a left-hander!

Chances of having multiple left-handed children

To get the chance of having a number of left- habded cgildren in a rown, just multiply the appropriate probability by itself.   This question we recived gives and example:

Q – I have a question about the dynamics of my family. I am left-handed, and my husband is right-handed. We have four children, 3 of whom are left-handed. The jury’s still out on our 4th, as she is only 4 months old. She does have a counter-clockwise hair whorl, which I hear may be correlated with handedness. Anyway, I was curious what the odds are of having 3 children in a row who are left-handed? I can’t seem to find the statistics anywhere, but I know it must not be common.

A – Well, according to my article, the chance of a left handed woman and right handed man having a left handed child is 16% (.16) or about 1 in 6. To get the probablity of having three left handed children in a row you just multiply that by itself, i.e. .16 x .16 x .16 = .004 (0.4% or about 1 in 250). If the fourth child is also left handed that would be a probability of 1 in 1,700.

Keith’s model of left-handedness

This is my Excel sheet used for calculating left-handed probabilities. I must state again that this is only a layman’s analysis – if there are any statisticians out there who can improve on this please let me know.

Click here to download the actual Excel workbook if you would like to play with the numbers yourself

WHAT IS THE CHANCE OF HAVING A LEFT-HANDED CHILD?
Starting number of individuals 1,000,000
Starting number of couples 500,000
Assumed starting rate of left-handedness in the population 10%
Percentage chances of having a left-handed child for each possible parent combination
Percent of
% chance
% of   LH
% of   RH
all couples
Number of
of LH
Number of
children
Number of
children
Total
Father Mother
with mix
Couples
child
LH children
with mix
RH children
with mix
Children
Left Left 1% 5,000 20.0% 1,000 2.0% 4,000 0.9% 5,000
Left Right 9% 45,000 12.0% 5,400 10.8% 39,600 8.8% 45,000
Right Left 9% 45,000 16.0% 7,200 14.4% 37,800 8.4% 45,000
Right Right 81% 405,000 9.0% 36,450 72.8% 368,550 81.9% 405,000
Total 100% 500,000 50,050 100.0% 449,950 100.0% 500,000
Resulting percentage of left-handed children 10.0%
Percentage of all children born to two right-handed parents who are left-handed 9.0%

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241 comments on “Chance of LH child
  1. Paula says:

    Both my parents are left-handed, and my brother and I are both left-handed.
    Although right-handed, my husband has strong left-hand genes, as his father is left-handed and he himself does some things left.
    Imagine my disappointment then when both my children turned out to be right-handed. Albeit with some left-handed tendencies.

  2. Jim says:

    Both of my parents are left handed ( though to be completely honest, my Mother is ambidextrous in many activities ) but my brother and sister are right handed. I consider that to be their misfortune.

  3. Angela says:

    Both my parents were right handed, as are my brother and sisters. Growing up, I was the only left hander in the family, yet my brother’s oldest son is a left hander. Three of my sister’s children are left handers. They may have caught the left handers bit from me but I always wondered where my left handedness comes from. The chance of the more children you have the more likely one of them is to be left handed is something I hadn’t considered.

  4. louise lynam says:

    I am rt handed, as two is my husband. We have 2 left kids and BOTH are left handed kids

  5. Jessica Ricks says:

    I am wondering if someone can tell me the stats on my family handedness. My husband and I are both right handed, together we have 3 daughters all are left handed! What are the chances of this?

  6. Teresa says:

    My husband and I are both right handed. My husband had son with his first wife who is right handed. We had four children, 2 girls and 2 boys who are all left handed. Realize now this is not as surprising as I thought.

  7. Edel says:

    My mother (the eldest of her siblings) is left handed and her four right-handed siblings all have first borns that are left-handed (but their subsequent children are right-handed). I’m left handed as the eldest of my siblings. However, my three children are all left-handed but they are left-handed in different ways. The eldest has the classic awkward way of holding his pen and is a little awkward (like me), often tripping over things and bumping into things. The other two have none of that awkwardness at all and the youngest can also use her right hand when she wants to.

  8. karen says:

    My father can write with either hand my mother is a right hand my sister is a right hand and i can write with either hand but prefer writing with my left I swing a bat with my right hand. What are my chances of having a child who can write with either hand or be a left handed when spouse is left handed when

  9. Tiffany says:

    Have you ever considered the thought that maybe being left handed is adaptive? I ask because my kids’ dad and I are both righties and both our daughters are left handed. My grandmother is a lefty by birth but went to a very strict school that forced her to use her right hand and she still does to this day. Also, when right handed parents are facing their children and are handing them something or feeding them, they may be more inclined to pass with their right to the child’s left.
    I’m no expert by any means on this, which is why I’m seeking outside council for this theory.
    Thanks!

  10. Pat Henning says:

    Both my parents are/were right handed. My maternal grandfather was left handed. Out of three children my parents had, I am the only one who is left handed. We have three children – all right handed. We have six grandchildren and only one is left handed.

  11. myra johnson says:

    My Nana & brother are lefties. My hubby and I are right handed. We have two children and for awhile they used both hand for several years. Now they both use their left hands for everything. They are 6 & 7 now. I thought this was odd, but after reading these posts, I see it is not.

  12. Vicki Struhs says:

    I have three children , all left handed and all born on the 17 th of different months. No one else in family are LH.

  13. Vicki Struhs says:

    I have 3 children. A son 27, and 2 daughters 22 and 16. All my children are left handed and all are born on the 17th of different months ( all natural deliveries). Myself and my first husband,and also second husband are all right handed. What are the odds of that happening.

  14. baig says:

    Hi..Me and my partner are both right handed. I have three children 7 yr old boy, 4 year old girl and 2 year old boy, all of whom are left handed? I was told that approximately 1 in every 10 children are left handed! So is our situation some what unique or is it just coincidence

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