Why Are There More Canadian Lefties?

Reader Benjamin sent me a link to this interesting article about the high incidence of left-handed hockey players among Canadians.

According to sales figures from stick manufacturers, a majority of Canadian hockey players shoot left-handed, and a majority of American players shoot right-handed. No reason is known for this disparity, which cuts across all age groups and has persisted for decades.

Most Canadians, like most Americans, are naturally right-handed, so the discrepancy has nothing to do with national brain-wiring. And how you hold a pencil, say, has little or no bearing on how you hold a stick. A left-handed shooter puts his right hand on top; a right-hander puts the left hand there.

I was curious, so I decided to check out the disparity for baseball. It turns out that Canadians are much more likely to bat left-handed than Americans.

Bats	CAN	USA
L	46.15%	28.43%
R	49.04%	65.48%
S	4.81%	6.09%

My first thought was that higher participation in hockey may generate more left-handed batters, because hitting opposite your natural hand is something that can be learned. If you’re playing hockey and baseball there are higher returns to learning how to do things left-handed. Plus, being able to shoot either way makes a player more dangerous; thus, right-handed baseball players will be able to more easily learn to bat left-handed. Though, the rate of switch-hitting is about the same between the groups. I think this may be part of the explanation, but I don’t know if it explains the entire disparity.

Unlike hitting, throwing a baseball is difficult to learn. You are either born capable to throw with your left arm, or you aren’t. And when we look at throwing arms, Canadians again are more likely to be left-handed than Americans, though the disparity is much less than it is for hitting.

Throws	CAN	USA
L	24.10%	20.41%
R	75.90%	79.59%

So, for the sake of being crazy, let me throw out a crazy explanation. Several years ago I noticed that Latin American players were more right-hand dominant than the rest of the baseball population. I thought the best explanation was that cultural biases against left-handedness may have been encouraging more right-handedness. But now that we see more lefties in Canada than in the US, but less in Latin America, I wonder about a Jared Diamond-esque theory of geographic determinism. Maybe the further you go from the equator, the more likely you are to be left-handed.

Remember, I called this a crazy theory, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I think the place to test this would be with footedness in soccer, which is played all over the world. Are Scandinavians more likely to be left-footed than North Africans? If this data is out there, I’d love to see it examined.

3 Responses “Why Are There More Canadian Lefties?”

  1. jw says:

    Just looking at the baseball, I would propose an alternate explanation:

    We have fewer baseball coaches in Canada and fewer scouts who see kids play. If a Canadian ball player is going to get noticed, get good coaching, and get a scholarship, it’s easier as a left-handed player. So while the overall talent pool may have almost exactly the same split as the US, our selection is more biased toward the left-handed players.

  2. James says:

    Yeah, but that doesn’t really explain the hockey thing. Hockey is the national sport in Canada so anybody with any scrap of talent is bound to be picked up. So the selection bias shouldn’t appear for hockey players, but there’s still the discrepancy.

  3. jw says:

    The hockey handedness could just be a cultural thing. I shoot lefty even though I’m a right-hander, it’s just the way I learned. I bat right-handed, however. The NYTimes article linked has a few attempts to explain the huge discrepancy.