Why Are There So Few Lefties in China?


In 2/3 of the world it's still unlucky to be born a leftie, says a researcher who has taken a new look at attitudes about left-handed people worldwide.

In China, in particular, less than 1 percent of students are reportedly left-handed, despite a global average of 10 to 12 percent of humans preferring their left hand, reports Howard Kushner, a researcher and Professor of Science and Society at Emory University in Atlanta. It's not that there are fewer people born left-handed in China or necessarily that there are negative attitudes about lefties there. It's just that being left-handed is especially impractical.

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"If you have to cater a huge society, you can't cater to the other side," Kushner said. And with 88 to 90 percent of the population right-handed, and some written characters requiring a right hand, that's what wins out, at least when it comes to writing. Kushner summarized the situation for Chinese southpaws in an article in the June edition of the journal Endeavour.

So is left-handedness going extinct in China? Probably not, says Kushner, because there doesn't seem to be a simple genetic basis for handedness.

What's more, studies on Chinese-Americans in California show a similar rate of left-handers as the rest of the U.S. population -- so there is nothing about being Chinese or Asian that makes a person less prone to being left-handed. But being born in China does mean you will likely be forced to function as a right-hander, Kushner concludes.

But China is hardly alone in this. Elsewhere in the world there are still very strong cultural stigmas against left-handedness. In many Muslim parts of the world, in parts of Africa as well as in India, the left hand is considered the dirty hand and it's considered offensive to offer that hand to anyone, even to help. The discrimination against lefties goes back thousands of years in many cultures, including those of the West.

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