Classing Up I.Q.

From a Chronicle of Higher Education review of Richard E. Nisbett's Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Culture Count:

Opinions have changed over the last few years, and many scientists would now agree, "If you were to average the contribution of genetics to IQ over different social classes, you would probably find 50 percent to be the maximum contribution of genetics," says Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Class is a crucial determinant of intelligence; adoption studies, for example, have indicated that "raising someone in an upper-middle-class environment versus a lower-class environment is worth 12 to 18 points of IQ—a truly massive effect," he says. Children of middle-class parents are read to, spoken to, and encouraged more than children of working-class parents, all experiences that influence intellectual development.

Intelligence and How to Get It also examines how better schooling boosts IQ scores and how school systems can improve. Nisbett cautions that more money does not always equate to higher-quality education, and that parents who take advantage of vouchers to move their children to better schools are a self-selecting group of people who are motivated to help their children excel academically, which leads some researchers to overestimate the vouchers' effectiveness. On the other hand, he finds that class size and teachers' experience and skills can make a big difference, especially for poor and minority children. He notes, too, that children who are exposed to "instructional technologies" in the classroom benefit intellectually; working with word-processing programs, for example, can help students learn to read faster, which leads to further advantages.

More here.

A couple of notes regarding education effects. First, a number of studies that control for parental behavior in voucher settings (usually by tracking students who got into voucher programs and those who applied but didn't receive them) consistently show better results for the kids in the voucher schools. Second, the benefits of smaller class sizes are not really clear unless you're talking about specific situations. Overall class size in K-12 public schools has never been lower in the past century or more; yet outcomes are basically flat at least over the past 30 years.

That said, I think Nisbett gets it right that environment matters when it comes to fulfilling potential (however defined).

Read Reason's review of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve, which covered similar ground. Written by future Nobel Prize winner James J. Heckman, here's a snippet:

Accounting for ability weakens but hardly eliminates the role of education in raising earnings. On average, an extra year of schooling still increases earnings by at least a substantial 6 percent to 8 percent. So there is room for social policy to eliminate earnings differentials between persons of the same ability level. Neither The Bell Curve nor the literature on schooling provides much evidence on the all-important question of the efficacy of education as a tool for equalizing the earnings of persons of different ability levels.

What little is known indicates that ability—or IQ—is not a fixed trait for the young (persons up to age 8 or so). Herrnstein noted this in IQ and the Meritocracy. Sustained high-intensity investments in the education of young children, including such parental activities as reading and responding to children, stimulate learning and further education. Good environments promote learning for young children at all levels of ability. In this sense, there is fragmentary evidence that enriched education can be a good investment even for children of low initial ability, because it stimulates cumulative learning processes and may raise ability. There is much more negative evidence for adults, where ability is a more stable trait. For low-ability adults, there is little evidence that educational investments are socially profitable.

More here.

That education matters so much is, I think, a really strong case for taking it out of the essentially exclusive hands of government and experimenting with many different models geared to many different students. You can get prepared food a million different ways in contemporary America. There's something really screwy when virtually all education gets delivered in the same manner.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • z||

    And yet government tax and welfare policy encourages low income parents to have children while discouraging high middle and high income parents. Wonderful.

  • Elemenope||

    And yet government tax and welfare policy encourages low income parents to have children while discouraging high middle and high income parents. Wonderful.

    I'm pretty sure that increased income is inversely correlated with fecundity even controlling for taxes.

    Rich people don't need children to fill the void in their souls because they have, you know, toys to do that instead.

  • ||

    So Rudy was right when he accused Mushmouth of being a moron. School on a Sunday and all that.

  • Assholio||

  • Reinmoose||

    And yet government tax and welfare policy encourages low income parents to have children while discouraging high middle and high income parents. Wonderful.

    I'm not sure that you're going to find poor people anywhere (as a group, not as an individual) reducing the amount of children they have because they can't afford them.

  • Sally||

    Yes, but the poor way be taught by teachers that don't have the best certification, so they don't learn as much as the rich children.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "Children of middle-class parents are read to, spoken to, and encouraged more than children of working-class parents.

    Wait. Didn't "working-class" used to mean "middle-class"?

  • z||

    I'm not sure that you're going to find poor people anywhere (as a group, not as an individual) reducing the amount of children they have because they can't afford them.

    I would disagree, I'm pretty sure you could look at the creation of welfare in the 60's as a stimulus for more children born to low income people, and the mid-80's welfare reform as a stimulus for less.

  • Assholio||

    I would disagree, I'm pretty sure you could look at the creation of welfare in the 60's as a stimulus for more children born to low income people, and the mid-80's welfare reform as a stimulus for less.

    Or the legalization of abortion...

  • ||

    Rich people don't need children to fill the void in their souls because they have, you know, toys to do that instead.

    Poor people have children to fill the gap in their souls? Impossible. Poor people don't have souls.

  • Zeb||

    "Wait. Didn't "working-class" used to mean "middle-class"?"

    Yes, but now it means poor.

  • ||

    You can get prepared food a million different ways in contemporary America. There's something really screwy when virtually all education gets delivered in the same manner.

    A lot of people who count when it comes to education policy are obsessed with equality ("fairness") and would rather have a system that treats everyone equally poorly than to have a system in which some people do better than others.

  • Zeb||

    I would disagree, I'm pretty sure you could look at the creation of welfare in the 60's as a stimulus for more children born to low income people, and the mid-80's welfare reform as a stimulus for less.

    Really? Haven't people always had lots of kids? It seems to me that not having lots of kids is a recent phenomenon due to low infant mortality and lack of need for free manual labor. I don't know how the numbers work out, but it would take a lot of tax and welfare incentives to make having children add more to our wealth than not having children.

  • Reinmoose||

    "Wait. Didn't "working-class" used to mean "middle-class"?"

    Yes, but now it means poor.


    I believe the political definition of "poor" has moved from "has difficulty feeding their families" to "can't afford everything I have without going into debt." Like all those "poor" homeowners in Obama's 30-minute commercial driving around in late-model cars. Apparently a car payment and mortgage are considered absolutely necessary things to have, and if you have them, you're poor, and if you don't have them but don't own a home, you're poor.

  • T||

    Really? Haven't people always had lots of kids? It seems to me that not having lots of kids is a recent phenomenon due to low infant mortality and lack of need for free manual labor.

    That and letting women learn to read. Seriously. Birth rates start to fall off when women are educated to a minimum 6th grade level. Support lower birth rates. Send a girl to school.

    This is based on 10 year old memories of a social science lecture, so take it with a grain of salt. Or google it.

  • ||

    There is a negative correlation between wealth and # of children. It's not just between social classes in the US, but it also exists between nations. Wealthy nations, Western Europe, Jaoan, the US have much lower birth rates than poorer nations. Part of this is due to higher infant mortality and part of it is because having more kids provides greater protection in old age. Having a lot of kids is old school Social Security.

  • ||

    Poverty has and always will be relative. Get over it. 100 years ago, having indoor plumbing was considered a luxury. Now, only the poorest of the poor don't have that. It doesn't mean that people that can't get by without indoor plumbing are sissies or aren't really poor, it means that what is considered a necessity changes over time.

  • robc||

    I think "working class" in the 4th (or is that 2nd) quintile.


    poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, rich.

    Thats my thought process anyway. :)

  • robc||

    Mo,

    Necessities really dont change with time. "Necessities" do, however.

  • Reinmoose||

    [thinks Mo probably owes a lot of money to a lending organization for a newer-than-necessary car that he absolutely "needs"]

  • ||

    Indoor plumbing and electricity are not "necessities" in the modern world, they are necessities. Necessities to survive as a human are different than necessities in a modern world. Otherwise, we would happily accept shanty towns in our cities and the homeless living under overpasses and not worry about them. As long as they get food, oxygen and water, all of their necessities to survive are being met. However, that's bullshit. You can't be an integrated member of society if you can't get a clean set of clothes or take regular showers for a job interview or to show up at work. If you can't get that, you're stuck.

    Oh and putting rich as a quintile? Are you serious? People that make $90K a year are not rich and that's the 80th percentile. At least Obama's $250K is the 98.5th percentile.

  • ||

    the income quintiles are poor representations of "rich/poor" as they fail to account for wealth or regional differences in the cost of living.

  • ||

    Reinmoose,

    I own my car in full, 2001 model year. I rent because I shouldn't overextend myself in debt (and I thought real estate prices were insane). I do have a nice flat screen TV, but I paid straight cash, homey.

    I don't really think calling indoor plumbing and electricity a necessity indicates any fiscal responsibility.

  • Reinmoose||

    Mo -
    where on this thread was anybody talking about the actual poor as opposed to the "poor?" You don't really think that "working class" equals "living under a bypass," do you?

  • Reinmoose||

    I own my car in full, 2001 model year. I rent because I shouldn't overextend myself in debt (and I thought real estate prices were insane). I do have a nice flat screen TV, but I paid straight cash, homey.

    Wow, it's like you just described me. Except my car is a 2000 that I bought outright! BURN! Also bought a flat screen TV, and paid cash for it to the extent that I like the rewards I get on my credit cards, and pay them off in full every month - no exceptions.

    My appologies for assuming your fiscal irresponsibility, but that's usually where comments about how people absolutely need their 2007 Town and Country to haul 2 kids and soccer gear around come from.

  • Neu Mejican||

    To help with the "working class" vs. "middle class" thing.

    The better way to conceptualize the two households is in terms of the mother's educational attainment.

    Kids benefit from being in an environment where the parent reads and writes on a regular basis. The number of books in the home is a better indicator than the bank account.

  • ||

    I was responding to robc's statement that necessities never change over time, which is a load of bull. Driving a late model car not so much.

  • Reinmoose||

    The better way to conceptualize the two households is in terms of the mother's educational attainment.

    True. Although the bank account itself is a better indicator than income, I think.

  • ||

    The term "working class" was created by Democrats and the media to imply that people with more money don't get it by working. Pure and simple class warfare.

  • ||

    I don't know how the numbers work out, but it would take a lot of tax and welfare incentives to make having children add more to our wealth than not having children.

    At a societal level, of course, tax and welfare incentives don't add wealth at all. Just move it around, while destroying some.

    On a personal level, yeah, it would take massive wealth transfers indeed to completely socialize the cost of raising kids.

    100 years ago, having indoor plumbing was considered a luxury. Now, only the poorest of the poor don't have that. It doesn't mean that people that can't get by without indoor plumbing are sissies or aren't really poor, it means that what is considered a necessity changes over time.

    Sure, sure, but you need some upper limit on what are really necessities, based perhaps on the degree they contribute to physical well-being. Indoor plumbing certainly does so, and was a luxury back in the day simply because it was so damn expensive.

  • Ol\' Man River||

    I ain't got nuthin'.

  • Famous Mortimer||

    All of this mindless Libertarian bickering about poor people being encouraged (you have to be kidding me) to have more children, or not, and no one has realized that the article, and study alone is invalid because it is based on a false premise: The idea that IQ is actually a meaningful measure of intelligence.

    Now, if society deems IQ scores as a meaningful level of intelligence.

    More importantly, no one has even given a definitive concept of intelligence.

    Why is there such a dirth of sincere skepticism around here?

    Don't strain, it was only a rhetorical question.

  • Famous Mortimer||

    "he US have much lower birth rates than poorer nations. Part of this is due to higher infant mortality and part of it is because having more kids provides greater protection in old age. Having a lot of kids is old school Social Security."

    I would expect high birth rates in poor countries to correlate more with the natural human desire to fuck incessantly under any circumstances (especially hopeless ones), coupled with poverty, a lack of contraceptive availability and education, and a lack of education in general.

    While they may not be intending to have more children, screwing has its risks. Ultimately it may not be big enough of a deal for that person to make sure it never happens again.

    That's where culture comes in. People are easily influenced by what others think of them, and if it's not a big deal to their peer group, then often, it's not a big deal to them either.


    Wanting to have sex all the time is natural. It's one of the reasons that our species is so successful. Human females breed year around. Suppressing the desire to fuck irresponsibly when it is one of the few exciting things to do will always be an uphill battle in places where life has little to offer.

    Also, in my initial post, I failed to finish this sentence: "Now, if society deems IQ scores to be a meaningful to rate intelligence, then that's just a relative standard, but it's a fairly narrow way to analyze human potential.

  • han||

    Anyway, when you get through that, read how the Lebanese have chosen to determine their own destiny

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement