Well Done Bruce!

Nice to see an occasional reader around here making waves elsewhere.

Elite universities are failing to recruit working-class students because IQ is, on average, determined by social class, according to an academic.

Bruce Charlton, a reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle University, claims that the greater proportion of students from higher social classes at highly selective universities is not a sign of admissions prejudice but rather the result of simple meritocracy.

No, I\’ve not read the paper but why should that stop me pontificating?

I think though that the report is being a little unfair to his ideas. It isn\’t that IQ is determined by social class, rather, that IQ itself determines economic class. And as social classes are (more than they used to be at least) determined by economic class, thus we see this outcome.

It doesn\’t really matter what IQ itself is here, whether it\’s measuring something immutable or something which is appropriate for success in our current societal structure. All we need for this mechanism to operate is that it both be heritable (which to a large extent it is) and that it determine, even if only in part, economic success.

Both of which contentions I think are really quite supportable.

There\’s also a rather impish corollary. We certainly did used to have a society in which life chances were a great deal more regulated by position of birth than is true now. When these restrictions were relaxed in the post war years, we saw a great deal more social mobility than before or indeed since. Using this IQ idea we could interpret this as being that society did indeed hold people back from the position that their IQ would have preited….but that once that age cohort had risen through the system, there isn\’t a pool of high IQ people in the next generation being unfairly held back. The parents that handed on such IQs to them are already middle class and thus the movement stops.

I have to admit that I\’m not 100% convinced either by the original contention (I\’m sure it\’s true in part, how much is the important bit) nor my corollaries but fun to speculate all the same, eh?

 

19 comments on “Well Done Bruce!

  1. Notwithstanding that the State education system is shit, this is of course true.

    I used to live in a wealthy suburb of Munich – all the successful bankers and businessmen married attractive women, and their kids were on the whole intelligent and good looking. That’s life.

  2. As someone who once had something to do with something connected with this topic and an Institution of some sort, I am not sure I agree.

    There are two main factors for students – intelligence (which is more or less reflected in IQ tests but not really – I can expand if anyone cares) and a willingness to work hard.

    Do I think that Middle Class children are more likely to be bright? Yes I do. But are they more likely to want to work hard? Not if they are Upper Middle Class. They have a job at Daddy’s firm waiting for them so why bother? Lower Middle Class children, on the whole, are willing to work hard. Give me the child of a teacher over the child of a Banker any day of the week.

    Intelligent and hard working Working Class children are rare compared to the entire pool of working class children, but I doubt they are compared to the smaller pool of Upper Middle Class children.

    But what kills Working Class children’s chances every single time is that their schools teach them nothing and, essentially, demotivate them. They come out of British Comps ignorant, sullen and resentful, indifferent and lazy with a massive set of expectations and way too much self-esteem. They have been taught to be unteachable. Even the bright ones.

    Middle Class parents, on the other hand, know how to play the system and certainly know what children should or should not do at University. It is after all a fine line that allows a student to run naked down Broad Street with a flower up his arse but does not allow him to keep his Admissions Tutor waiting for ten seconds or to call him Chuck.

    What we need, of course, is something like the Grammar system back but for a much broader range of students.

  3. Hi there – I have posted my article at:

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2008/05/social-class-iq-differences-and.html

    I am not stating anything which is at all ‘controversial’ nor anything new here – the social class IQ difference is a fact, and the effect on class ratios that this has, as universities become increasingly selective, is also a fact.

    I notice that the Minister Bill Rammell is quoted by the Guardian as saying: ‘that Charlton’s arguments had a definite tone of “people should know their place”‘.

    That a government minister apparently needs to resort to dishonest, ignorant and irrelevant personal abuse of someone proposing a scientific argument may be a clue that I am onto something?

  4. I’m with SMFS on this one, having worked with people very familiar with the private and public education system both in the UK and Malayasia in the 80’s (also because it’s been pretty well proven that although intelligence is inherited, it can be *also* be enhanced or suppressed by a child’s environment)

    In Malaysia at the time there was an urgent government initiative to improve education to fill a desperate need for university graduates. There was also a racial issue requiring that the Malay people catch up with the Chinese.

    The boys’ and girls’ schools were separate and for the most part boarding schools, for it would have been impossible to daily collect children who lived in scattered villages in the forests and remote rural areas. Most of these children were far more disadvantaged than even those in ‘bog-standard comprehensives’ in the UK. They came from a background of desperate poverty, primitive medical services, appalling sanitation and no privacy or housing and had illiterate parents.

    And the schools were primitive – thatched roofs with desks and a blackboard, very simple food, accommodation spare but clean.

    Generally, 90% of them passed their A-levels – the teachers would have been sacked otherwise – and many of the students applied to English and other European universities (Malaya had almost none).

    In one generation, these people jumped from being illiterate peasants to become the educated middle-class backbone of one of the more successful post-war economies.

  5. The GI Bill, which opened American colleges to returning soldiers after WWII, was a spectacular success.

    American colleges pre war were governed by snobbish insularity. This new wave of mature students was an invasion of the common man.

  6. In reply to Bill Ramble, all I can say is “Correct! I know my place, and that’s in an office doing tax planning, I’d be an absolute disaster on a football field, in a car repair workshop or in an operating theatre.”

  7. “They come out of British Comps ignorant, sullen and resentful, indifferent and lazy with a massive set of expectations and way too much self-esteem. “

    So not willing to work hard then.

    Whilst I’m afraid that I must confess to being in the box labelled “upper middle class”, this is also tosh:

    “But are they more likely to want to work hard? Not if they are Upper Middle Class. They have a job at Daddy’s firm waiting for them so why bother?”

    That hasn’t been true in this country for 30 years.

  8. “way too much self-esteem.”

    I think this is one of the major problems in our education system. Telling kids they are marvellous and can do anything if they set their mind on it is destructive when it slowly dawns on them that they aren’t and they can’t.

    Just look at the shock when Simon Cowell tells them they’re rubbish, they can’t sing, and get out.

  9. Average IQ is not the factor here, surely…? It’s the amount of potential candidates from each respective class against those actually selected.
    As Bruce Charlton says (paraphrased somewhat) there will likely be a greater range of IQ (forgetting the IQ debate for a moment) within the ‘lower’ social class – you can be a a high IQ waiter but less likely to be able to be a low IQ doctor.
    Given that the lower social class has far more members, then even with a lower average IQ how much does this say about the number of potential candidates that the ‘lower’ class has?

  10. There’s also the effect of gene mixing to take into account. When people have kids, some will be brighter than their parents. This means that there is a great need for routes to good, academic education for the lower social classes, aka grammar schools.

  11. ” When these restrictions were relaxed in the post war years, we ..”: the restrictions must have been decaying since, what, the 17th century? Once your King is appointed by parliament, not divine right, the glacier is moving.

  12. I can’t help thinking that IQ is at least partially the result of the environment a child is exposed to during the pre-school years. A stimulating, but secure environment must surely benefit the natural curiosity and imagination of a developing child. If IQ is a pre-determined potential, that suggests it can be suppressed, or fully exploited.

    Shoving a child in front of the TV for lengthy periods, is a poor substitute for real play, or real playmates. They can have more fun taking a cabbage apart, or painting the dog blue. They will cheerfully scribble on everything from your chequebook to the toilet paper. They are learning what happens when you do things. Learning by doing. Perhaps the most important skill they are developing is the ability to imagine the possible outcomes before they do it.

    I think maybe we should direct our attention not to the material poverty of their upbringing, but the sterility of their surroundings and experience.

    The post war babies grew up with so much less in material terms, but so much more scope for discovery, experimentation, and adventure. Today’s children do not have those advantages.

  13. In order to successfully take a bachelor’s degree with honours in an academically demanding subject, one needs a minimum IQ in the 120 – 125 range. This is above that of at least 90% of the population (assuming normally distributed IQ with mean 100 and standard deviation 15, 120 is at the 91st percentile and 125 is at the 95th). Nine out of ten people are simply too thick to make a go of a university education and pretending otherwise is folly. Even if we generously allow that someone with an IQ of 115 can hack a real degree course, that still rules out 85% of the population. 115 IQ really isn’t all that bright.

    The problem is only going to get worse as assortative mating (people marrying people like themselves) is on the increase. IQ differences by economic and social class will become more stratified and thus refractory to any social engineering solution.

  14. Cleanthes – “So not willing to work hard then.”

    It is not that they are just unwilling to work hard, it is that they think it is their damn civil right to do no work whatsoever, treat you like crap, and still get a First. When they get a pass they are outraged – they are entitled!

    Cleanthes – “That hasn’t been true in this country for 30 years.”

    I wish that were true. Well actually come to think of it I don’t. I’d hate the world to be stuck in a uniform lower middle class pattern. But, trust me, I know from first hand experience it is not untrue. These students are great in that they sometimes get caught up in some obscure issue or subject which they really like. But if nothing grabs them then their intelligence, which I don’t doubt is high, remains idle.

    Kay Tie – “I think this is one of the major problems in our education system. Telling kids they are marvellous and can do anything if they set their mind on it is destructive when it slowly dawns on them that they aren’t and they can’t. Just look at the shock when Simon Cowell tells them they’re rubbish, they can’t sing, and get out.”

    I don’t mind telling them that they can do anything if they put their mind to it. I object, strongly, to the notion that they can do anything they like even if they do no work, make no effort, refuse to engage with the subject, read anything or think about the issues at hand. No they cannot. What they need is the idea that they will only feel good about themselves if they try something hard, work at it and succeed rather than just have it handed to them because they are, like, owed by society.

    And when a lazy little sod who can’t be arsed to do a stroke of work fails, and then gets annoyed at the teacher, I get kind of annoyed myself.

  15. I’m stunned. Not by Bruce’s point, but that anyone, especially someone reasonably sensible and numerate like Tim, could regard it as new or surprising. Likewise with the social mobility implications of a merotocratic society. Surely all this is completely obvious, and has been obvious for decades. I can conceive of the BBC or the Guardian being surprised, or at least wanting to cover it up, but surely nobody else can be surprised ? Still, I feel that Bruce could do some slightly more sophisticated sums and tell us – starting with the IQ distributions for particular social classes, and the numbers in each such class, how many Oxbridge undergraduates he would expect to see from each social class vs. how many we actually see. I suspect he could do even more sophisticated sums and do estimates subject by subject. (I bet different subjects at Oxbridge attract students with different average IQs.)

    A couple of other points :

    Tim’s comment It isn’t that IQ is determined by social class, rather, that IQ itself determines economic class. And as social classes are (more than they used to be at least) determined by economic class, thus we see this outcome is slightly astray. For university students, their social class will be determined by their parents’ social class (which I agree is these days pretty much the same as economic class) which will be correlated with parental and more probably paternal IQ. The correlation between the student’s IQ and his social class at university time will be via a two stage link – student IQ to parental IQ, and parental IQ to parental (and so student) social class. Later in life, however, the student’s social class will correlate better with his own IQ, since thicker students who had a good start from their early environment will tend to fall in socio-economic status, and brighter students who had less of a good start, blossom.

    Also note how most of the media commentators getting cross about Bruce’s remarks have banged on about social disadvantage leading to lower IQ . No doubt environmental factors, as well as genetic ones, affect IQ but that is quite irrelevant to whether, by the time universities decide on admissions person A’s IQ is higher or lower than person B’s. IQ could be entirely environmentally determined and universities could still be completely meritocratic in awarding most of their places to middle class students.

    The fact that Bruce is obviously right, and that the usual suspects are up in arms about it, indicates that this is a topic that few researchers will want to explore. Which is unfortunate. If we want to help poor / lower class children do well, and if IQ is affected by environment as well as by genes, it would be well worth researching which environmental factors contribute, and which are susceptible to concious amendment. We have discovered a couple by accident – eg nutrition and avoiding lead in the atmosphere. Perhaps there are more. But few are going to venture into this area if the reward for saying what is obviously true as a matter of simple mathematics, is to have rotten tomatoes thrown at you.

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