Bryan Caplan

IQ, Achievement Motivation, and Culture

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Arnold writes:

My guess is that someone with a high IQ in an adverse cultural setting will not necessarily be healthy and wealthy. Someone with an average IQ in an achievement-oriented cultural setting will tend to achieve a lot.

Both statements are literally true, but we need to be careful. You'd have to be a fool to argue that IQ necessarily leads to health and wealth. But it's nigh-impossible to find a society where IQ is not one of the best predictors of wealth and health, and implausible to think this relationship is not largely causal. Maybe Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge is a counter-example, though even there, the leaders were a bunch of intellectuals.

Similarly, it's obvious that - holding IQ constant - people do better in "achievement-oriented" societies. That's one of the reasons immigration makes the world better off - people move to places where a given level of IQ is more productive. However, this is perfectly compatible with the fact that - holding achievement orientation constant - high-IQ people do better.


Arnold adds:

Cultural influences and emotional health cannot be measured as accurately as IQ. In regressions to explain things like wealth and health, this puts IQ at an advantage and the other factors at a disadvantage. But I do not think that justifies IQ-ism.

Suppose we use religion as a barometer of culture. In the NLSY, I've found that there is one religion that - controlling for IQ, education, and more - predicts MUCH higher earnings: Judaism. Thomas Sowell was on to something. In the NLSY, not only do Jews have higher IQs and more years of education, but they earn even more than you would expect given their IQ and education. In a simple linear model, Jews got a $12k bonus. However, the other religions have only a minor effect: Episcopalians only got a $2400 bonus, and every other denomination got less.

My interpretation: Having an achievement-oriented culture can matter a lot. If every group in the world were as focused on achievement as (American?) Jews are, the world would be a lot richer. But at least within the U.S., seemingly diverse religious cultures lead to pretty similar economic outcomes.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Nathan Smith writes:

What are the externalities of letting high-IQ people rise to the top? Many of the perks of being high-class-- living in nice neighborhoods, having "prestigious" jobs-- are partly reducible to the chance to interact with high-IQ people. This might amount to a weird argument against social mobility. In a non-meritocratic society, if you're born at the bottom, you stay at the bottom, but at least you've got some clever company down there. In a meritocratic society, if you're born at the bottom with a high IQ, you can rise to the top, but if you have a low IQ, you not only end up at the bottom, you're stuck down there with a lot of dullards. Counter-intuitively, in its distribution of the good interacting with smart people, the non-meritocratic society is more egalitarian.

jaimito writes:
That's one of the reasons immigration makes the world better off - people move to places where a given level of IQ is more productive.
I daresay, Bryan, that the above is an unfounded supposition. Where is IQ more productive: in the USA, or in Mexico?

Anecdote: Once, I used to play cards with very rich Halabi (Syrian) Jews in Mexico City. They were new (legal) immigrants in Mexico. I posed the question why, having the world open before them, choose to live in Mexico, and not, say, in Canada. They said, they had better chances in an underdeveloped country. Which in their case was proved more than true.

Halabi Jews prospered also in the US, but there was something in their way of thinking.

BTW, IQ is best rewarded in places like Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Saudia, etc., where there is oil and IQ has little competition.

I never heard/read these things discussed openly anywhere except in Plato. People fears G-d. Bryan, you are something.

JohnDewey writes:

Nathan Smith,

I appreciate your point about the attraction of interacting with high-IQ people. But I disagree with this statement:

"if you have a low IQ, you not only end up at the bottom, you're stuck down there with a lot of dullards."

If "low IQ" means simply below average intelligence, then I don't think your statement is accurate. I've known and read about successful entrepreneurs who possessed only below-average intelligence.

I also disagree that unsuccessful low-IQ people are stuck with a bunch of dullards. I've known very intelligent folks who choose to live a simple life in modest and even low-income neighborhoods. Furthermore, havng a below average IQ does not make one a "dullard".

Dog of Justice writes:

"In the NLSY, not only do Jews have higher IQs and more years of education, but they earn even more than you would expect given their IQ and education. In a simple linear model, Jews got a $12k bonus. However, the other religions have only a minor effect: Episcopalians only got a $2400 bonus, and every other denomination got less."

I would expect this is partially due to nonlinearity of income; the higher up you get, the greater the marginal returns.

That said, of course an achievement-oriented culture does matter. I just wonder how easy it will be to create achievement-oriented cultures where they don't currently exist. There is a tendency for people in an underachieving population to gravitate to thinking, "even if I try my hardest, I'm still going to have trouble competing with the average [insert your favorite market-dominant minority or majority here], so why bother?"

Steve Sailer writes:

Whenever thinking about IQ, it's helpful to keep in mind the old image of the glass being half empty and half full -- just about anything you can about the helpfulness of IQ in understanding the world is part true and part false. The same is true for every other explanatory variable, such as educational level.

But, the point is that science can make good use of the half-full glasses.

The other point is, that as Bryan is one of the few economists to admit in public, IQ is radically underexploited by economists as an explanatory tool, for obvious reasons of political incorrectness. It may turn out that at some distant point in the future, a large number of economist rely _too_ heavily on IQ, but at present there is a completely obvious market niche for an economist to specialize in studying the impact of IQ.

It's similar to how George Borjas has risen up to an endowed chair at the Kennedy School at Harvard by specializing in empirical studies of immigration, a hugely important subject that most other economists have avoided due to ideological and emotional biases.

Bourg writes:

Listening Steve Sailer and his IQ monomania, one could be forgiven for believing that he is expert rather than a popularizer of studies mentioned on science blogs and of bits and pieces of information obtained from a few friends who are experts.

The fact here is that this guy has really no idea of how much of a focus economists give to innate ability because he has no real familiarity with an strand of economic literature.

Jody writes:

Thanks Bourg, I was just thinking how much an ad hominem argument would contribute to the discussion.

jaimito writes:

Why on Earth would Jewish religion provide an income bonus to its practicants?

The religion is saturated with prohibitions and limitations that make one's life unfree and unenjoyable. In fact, it seems to have been designed to make life miserable, difficult and focussing in making money, impossible.

(1) You cant work one day a week and during 20 to 25 days per year of sacred boring ceremonies. You cannot even travel nor watch TV or blog. You waste electricity in leaving lights and heaters working unnecesarily 24 hs on Saturday.
(2) You have to spend at least an hour and half (shaharit, mayrev, etc.) per day praying - reciting mind killing boring texts.
(3) Everything you buy is more expensive - kosher food is more expensive and certainly not better than regular food, your schtreimel (hat) costs a fortune, you are limited to expensive and bad kosher hotels and so on.
(4) You have to give 10% of your income to charity.
(5) Your wife takes no pills so your are burdened with expensive and demanding children. And relatives!
(6) Your wife is forbidden to you most of the days, and you cannot do it with your neighbor's, so you are forced to spend money on sex.
(7) Fasting on Yom Kippur should save you money on food. But after-fast dinners make up anything you may have saved in money and in calories.

And so on. I see only negatives. Nothing to suggest any economic bonus for practicing this religion. So someone solve this riddle.

BT writes:

High IQ is important but so is emotional intelligence. Just ask people who have a doctorate in Biology, Chemistry or Physics. The unemployment rate for these professionals is around 12%. Sucess in the corporate world at least (been with fortune 100 firms for 13 years now) is more a result of emotional intelligence rather than high IQ.

Steve Sailer writes:

An important thing to keep in mind is that when measured at the individual level, the importance of IQ, while worth studying, is limited. Human behavior is hugely complicated, and any one measure can explain only a small part of it. Thus the r-squared correlation between IQ and income is somewhere in the range of 10%. That's actually a pretty large number relative to other measurable factors, but obviously the glass is only 10% full and 90% empty here.

On the other hand, when looking at two groups that differ in average IQ, IQ is hugely important. For example, if you look at the graduates of the 20 highest IQ colleges in the country and compare them to the graduates of the 20 lowest IQ colleges in the country on current income, I would bet that at least 19 of the higher IQ colleges, and probably all 20, came out above the lower IQ colleges in income per graduate.

So, IQ has more to say about the fates of groups than of individuals, which is rather disturbing.

Stuart Buck writes:

In the NLSY, I've found that there is one religion that - controlling for IQ, education, and more - predicts MUCH higher earnings: Judaism. Thomas Sowell was on to something. In the NLSY, not only do Jews have higher IQs and more years of education, but they earn even more than you would expect given their IQ and education. In a simple linear model, Jews got a $12k bonus. However, the other religions have only a minor effect: Episcopalians only got a $2400 bonus, and every other denomination got less.

Is this result published anywhere that I could cite? Please let me know. Thanks.

morganja writes:

How is this IQ measured? Are we actually talking about IQ here? If I recall correctly, the Bell Curve decided to use convenient shortcuts to determine IQ, such as SAT scores, which in fact aren't reallly IQ tests at all. Its very easy to get into a complicated but circular argument, especially when the conclusion tends to imply such nice things about yourself.

Omer K writes:

Re: Nathan Smith's point.
You seem to say it is morally wrong that Higher IQ types may move out of low IQ groups thereby impoverishing the group.

The flip side would be if society didnt allow them to move out, they have to live a life frustrated below their potential, with a lot of the baggage that goes with low iq groups not the least of which is living in a higher crime rate area. Is that any less immoral to you?
=----------------------------------

As for the jews, the differences may well be due to acheivement oriented culture.. I dont know enough to comment but I have another hypothesis.

Perhaps the over-acheivement is due to the Jewish makeup of IQ, aka very high verbal and normal spatial.
This could imply two different things.
1) The studies use the wrong IQ figure when estimating their achievement. If a random Jew has an Iq of 130, the study will assume he should make as much money as the average IQ 130 person. HOWEVER if our friend specializes in a verbal field (for eg Lawyering) and his Verbal IQ is 160, his income/achievement/etc level will be closer to the IQ 160 level.

Jews make up 3% of the american population.. there are few enough of them to specialize exclusively in what they want. However we shouldnt assume that Askenazic Jews who make up, hypothetically, 100% of a country's population, that their achievement level will be higher than their Iq would predict. Fallacy of composition and all that.

Alternative 2) I am not sure this is a valid alternative, but is it possible that their higher verbal Iq allows them to commit a form of Rent seeking against the rest of the population?

Chances are, the world being as complex as it is, no answer can claim to 100% explain the facts, and that the truth lies somewhere in the murky middle.

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