Do upper-middle-class white people just have higher IQs? A Washington Post columnist seems to think so

Is it 1912, or 2012? You'd be forgiven for being confused after reading an op-ed in this week's Washington Post by political scientist Charles Murray who writes that if there's an education gap in our society in which whites are out-performing other groups, it's because students flagging behind are just not smart enough.

"(C)hildren’s IQ is tied to that of their parents," Murray writes. "How genes and environment conspire to produce these relationships is irrelevant." Here's the entirety of the offending passage titled Five myths about white people, which was published by the Post Feb. 10:

It’s common to assume that upper-middle-class white kids win more slots in top universities than middle-class or working-class students not because they’re smarter, but because their parents can afford to send them to the best grade schools and high schools, pay for SAT prep courses, or make hefty donations to colleges.

There are two problems with this logic. First, ever since the landmark Coleman Report on educational equality back in 1966, scholars have had a hard time demonstrating that attending fancy elementary and secondary schools raises students’ academic performance. And on average, those highly touted test-preparation courses boost students’ SAT scores by only a few dozen points — a finding consistent across rigorous studies of test-prep programs.

Second, educational attainment is correlated with intelligence. (The mean IQ of white Americans with just a high school diploma is about 99; the mean IQ of whites with a professional degree is about 125.) And children’s IQ is tied to that of their parents. How genes and environment conspire to produce these relationships is irrelevant; the relationships have been stable for decades. As a result, white parents with advanced educations — who are also generally affluent — inevitably account for a disproportionate number of the white kids with the highest SAT scores, best grades and other evidence of academic excellence.

If college admission were purely meritocratic — eliminating favoritism for the children of alumni, celebrities and big donors — upper-middle-class children would still be overrepresented. That’s because the applicants who would be accepted instead would also hail overwhelmingly from the upper middle class

This is not a new position for Murray. His 1994 book "The Bell Curve"  argued that IQ was the main factor in a student's performance. This concept has fallen out of the public's discourse, though, as research about the effect of environmental factors on educational attainment has gained popularity, and legitimacy.

Let’s look at some of the differences between two local school districts: Chicago Public Schools and the neighboring Evanston/Skokie CC School District 65. In Chicago, 87 percent of students come from low-income families while in the neighboring Evanston/Skokie district, only 42.9 percent of students come from low-income homes.

The website of District 65 boasts class sizes that are smaller than the state average and low student-teacher ratios. Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools are notorious for being overcrowded.

Larger class sizes are only a small part of  what low-income children deal with that may effect their school performance. Parental stress, hunger and physical danger are also part of the day-to-day life for many students living at or below the poverty line.

How do the graduation rates of Chicago Public Schools and the Evanston-Skokie district differ? They were, respectively, 58.3 percent in 2011 and 87.1 percent in the year 2009.

"We know that early environments and the interactions children are having are what shapes who they become," said Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund. "The stress of poor quality education, poor quality childcare are what effect low-income children."

The U.S. Department of Education's 2011 Condition of Education report found that the graduation rates nationally fell along similar income lines. According to the report, 68 percent of high-school students from high-poverty schools graduated nationally, while 91 percent of highschoolers living above the poverty line recieved their college diploma.

And the gap begins well before high-school: a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children who live in poverty and read below grade level by third grade are three times less likely to finish high school.

“It’s clearly about poverty,” said Rauner.

© Community Renewal Society 2012



Leave a comment
  • This post is completely misleading.

    You have the reading comprehension skills of an infant on benadryl.

    The reporter isn't saying white people are smarter....and even if he did, why get so offended or butthurt? Saying whites are smarter than blacks because they score higher on IQ tests is as offensive as saying asians are smarter than whites because they score higher on IQ tests.

  • In reply to gwill:

    It's kind of a shame you didn't think you could criticise the article without resorting to nasty 'witticisms'. The article quoted wasn't written by a reporter, but a columnist. It was an op-ed piece. The columnist is Charles Murray, famous for writing a book called The Bell Curve. This book, which has been attacked by numerous specialists and has been described as poor research, basically put forth the idea that some races are smarter than others. Taken in the context of Murray's work and continued stance that some races are intellectually superior, it's hard to see this op-ed piece as non-racist.

    I also don't understand your last point. Yes. Obviously saying whites are smarter than blacks is as racist as saying Asians are smarter than whites. Because saying any race is better than another is racist.

  • In reply to IndianaJones:

    IndianaJones, as you said, you don't understand my last point, and seemingly share a lot of infantile reading traits with this blogger. If you "reread" my last statement you would see it's in relation to objective IQ tests. Blacks, as a whole score, lower on IQ tests than whites. Likewise, Whites, as a whole, score lower on IQ tests than asians. It doesn't mean, as you so incorrectly deduced from your intimidating intellectual prowess, than one race is "better than another."

  • fb_avatar

    I also don't see the scientist quoted saying "white people are just smarter." He says the opposite, that IQ is directly related to parent's IQ, regardless of race. If blacks (or any group) had a long history of parents who graduated with advanced degrees, their children would benefit by having higher IQ's, which in turn would help their children, and so on. I'll add that for a host of reasons blacks in the U.S. do not have a long history of college degrees and advanced degrees as a whole, and their children suffer because of it, using the reasoning the scientist uses. He goes out of the way to explain the relationship between child and parent. Not once does he say one racial group is more or less intelligent than others.

    One could also argue that the 'evidence' of Chicago and Evanston schools only further supports the scientists' statement. Children who have parents with advanced degrees are less likely to live in poverty, regardless of race. Parents with advanced degrees would in theory have smarter children, who would have a higher graduation rate than children in poverty with parents without advanced degrees - and your statistics quoted backs that up completely.

    Black people and minorities as a whole have been trampled on for the entire history of this country, but randomly picking out statistics to claim certain people are racist or implying racist theories is of no help to anyone, especially when the facts are the opposite.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    I totally agree- it's a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty. But I think given Charles Murray's research history, it's hard to not read into this as racist. Like I said to another commenter, he wrote an extremely controversial book called The Bell Curve, and is notorious for being a proponent of the idea that some races are more intelligent than others. He says that it's a myth that elite colleges are bastions of white privilege. Unfortunately it's not- like you said, the black community has been trampled on for centuries, and there is still a huge amount of discrimination in terms of employment and opportunities. As a result, there is more poverty, fewer role models, less stable family life, and parents working three jobs to keep a roof over their heads. All of these things are strong factors that affect academic performance, and Murray doesn't seem to accept that these environmental factors are hugely influential.

    I don't know, I was kind of shocked the Post had Murray do a piece in general. Obviously I'm all for freedom of speech but I don't think it works to legitimise a man like that. The whole piece smacks of a strange 'in defense of white people' viewpoint.

  • The fallacy here is the narrow definition of intelligence. For Howard Gardner, intelligence was multiple. There are 9 kinds of intelligences: (1) linguistic; (2) logical-mathematical; (3) musical; (4) spatial; (5) bodily-kinesthetic; (6) interpersonal; (7) intrapersonal; (8) naturalistic; and (9) existential. IQ tests measure the first two, theoretically.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Try getting a good job if you lack the first two, and that's if you even believe in multiple intelligence theory.

    Gardner's theory is so lacking in empirical evidence that it has little to no academic or real world value.

    At the end of the day, it's another way of giving out trophies for people who don't finish at the top. Oh, you scored low on the IQ, well that's ok, you're still smart because you have great "spatial" intelligence.

  • In reply to gwill:

    I'm not sure where you get your research from. Do you have an extensive study backed up by infallible data saying that people who score higher in the first two traits are not only employed more regularly, but earn more money and are more successful? I'm pretty sure that's just what you think. It's a preconceived notion that is entirely unsupported by factual data. Why spout on about 'empirical evidence' when you don't have any yourself?

  • In reply to IndianaJones:

    Since you seem to be interested in academic value, I'd also like to point out that The Bell Curve, which summarises Murray's disturbing agenda, was never submitted for peer review. I don't know if you know what that means (not trying to be condescending, a lot of people outside academia don't) but that's a huge deal in research communities.

  • In reply to IndianaJones:

    Are you this blogger's sister? Or perhaps second cousin with benefits?

    Gardner's theory has been revealed to lack empirical evidence. Please look it up.

    You speak of infallible data? You don't need research to see that the sky is blue and the sun is hot. Write down on your resume that you were a "spatial" major in college or that you earned a master's in "naturalistic" studies, or one of your skills is "existential" feelings, and try to compete with applicants in the real world.

  • In reply to gwill:

    I guess your plumber is literate and excels at abstract reasoning.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    My plumber is an illiterate foreign national who does great work. I can recommend him to you.

  • In reply to gwill:

    Until I need him, I'll use my plunger made in China.

  • Here's a longer piece in which Chomsky discusses Murray and Herrnstein's ideas in general that sums it up better than I have :)

  • YanaKunichoff in her/his second paragraph makes reference to Murray's "Offending passage." Who is offended, and why? Murray doesn't call anyone names. He simply makes a number of assertions about matters that should be important in creating public policy. Are they true? Well, do they comport with your experience?

  • fb_avatar

    Most Asian people grow up in poverty and still manage to better themselves by getting a higher education. It is kind of strange poverty does not effect them like it does others.

  • If IQ has fallen out of public discourse, it is because of a massive wave of denial. The science is still bulletproof, yet junk science studies are routinely published directly into blogs and the media funded by minority rights groups.

    The measurements are bulletproof and we all saw it in school - the kid that is good at one test of mental ability is usually good at all of them. And that kid was also probably Jewish or Asian. The stats are there whether you like them or not.

    Censorship is not the path to helping the situation.

    The illogic used in this argument is a perfect example. Low IQ, poverty, and poor school performance are all correlated. This does not mean that poverty is the cause of the other two. Of the three IQ is the only one that is immutable and it is also a heritable trait, and so common sense identifies it as the cause.

    However IQ is only immutable over one lifetime, one's progeny can and often do have higher IQ's presumably benefiting somehow from the parent's experiences and understanding (Flynn effect)

Leave a comment