When longevity matters – World Cup Special

Jun 15, 2018 | BLOG

By: Dean Hochlaf, Assistant Economist, ICL-UK

What makes a country good at football? ILC analysis shows that it’s not all about money or demographics, but that how well-established their international football record is.

With the World Cup starting to disrupt concentration spans around the country, I thought what better way to indulge my football fanaticism with research on demographic change, than to explore whether demographics influences the ability of the teams participating in this year’s tournament.

To my pleasant surprise, there have already been numerous studies which have attempted to answer the age-old question of how a country become good at football. Gasquez and Royuela (2016) found strong links between “economics, demographics…and football institutions” and international footballing success.

Replicating their model using data from the 32 competing teams, it was found that longevity matters, although not the longevity of the population. The length of time a nation has spent associated with the governing body FIFA was associated with an improved rating. In fact, for every 1% increase in time spent in FIFA, there would be a reward of 4.3% increase in a nations Elo score (the Elo rankings consider factors including margin of victory, match importance, home advantage and other specific factors to compute more robust rankings).

Of course, this is just an association, and the luxury of 113 years spent in FIFA does not mean that England is necessarily on the road to victory in Russia. However, when we estimate how a country should perform based on factors including GDP, population and weather, despite historic pessimism, we find that England has consistently over-performed. Below, using the evidence from our model, we can see how England regularly outperforms where we might expect them to be (although England’s rating does seem to fall around competition time).

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from Climatic Research Unit, World Bank, FIFA and https://www.eloratings.net/

While football games will always be decided on the pitch, this is a novel way of looking at how demographics, economics and history can come together to influence the performance of nations across a whole range of fields. Through studying the linkages between different elements of the social sciences, we can develop a more complete understanding of our society today and help us implement changes necessary to face future challenges (and more importantly, to help a home nation lift the World Cup).

Dean Hochlaf

Assistant Economist, ILC-UK

Dean Hochlaf worked with the ILC from May 2016 to September 2018, when he joined the IPPR.