Using data to determine someones age based only on their name


Data can be a powerful tool to find important information, and one trivial example is the ability to guess a person’s age based on nothing but their name. How is this possible? You make this assumption all the time, when you hear someone’s name in a conversation at work or with you friends. Does the name sound old, does the name sound young? Using data from the Social Security Administration this article gives us an example of how data can be used to give the answers you need.

Picture Mildred, Agnes, Ethel and Blanche. Perhaps you imagine the Golden Girls or your grandmother’s poker game. These are names for women of age, wisdom and distinction. The median living Mildred in the United States is now 78 years old.

Now imagine Madison, Sydney, Alexa and Hailey. They sound like the starting midfield on a fourth-grade girls’ soccer team. And they might as well be: the median American females with these names are between 9 and 12 years old.

There are quite a lot of websites devoted to tracking the popularity of American baby names over time. (The data ultimately comes from the Social Security Administration, which records birth names dating back to 1880.) But we haven’t seen anyone ask the age of living Americans with a given name.

The method for determining the answer is quite simple: All you really need is the SSA’s baby name database and its actuarial tables, which estimate how many people born in a given year are still alive.

You can read the entire article by Nate Silver and Allison Mccann here.


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