Gene Expression

My post below elicited a lot of response. One thing to point out though, which I want to emphasize: a higher proportion of smart people go to college now than in the past. How can this be? First, let’s review the change in distributions of intelligence of those with college degrees (or higher) and those without. The first two charts show the proportions of WORDSUM scores for individuals with and without college degrees for two decades. I limited the sample to whites ages 30 and over. So for example in the period between 1974-1984, of those with college degrees and higher 26.8% scored 10 on WORDSUM. Among those without college degrees 21.8% scored 6. The error bars are 95% confidence intervals.


As you can see, the distribution of college graduates shifted. These results are in line with what I reported earlier; mean WORDSUM scores have dropped among college graduates.

Now let’s look at the proportion of those in each WORDSUM class who have college degrees. That is, what % of those who have a WORDSUM score of 10 have a college degree (or higher) in a given period. 1974-1984, 48.6% of those who scored a 10 or above on WORDSUM had college degrees of higher (whites, age 30 and up). 1998-2008 the corresponding value was 67.3%. Here’s the chart:


As you can see, the whole curve simply shifts upward. Remember that a substantial proportion of college graduates are less intelligent than a substantial proportion of those without college degrees. While the proportion of the population with college degrees increased, and that increase was disproportionately from the higher end of the distribution, it was not such perfect sorting. The 30% who received college degrees were not the top 30% of the population. Consider these raw numbers from the GSS:


Only at the highest scores do college graduates outnumber those without college degrees in raw numbers. If fact, the top 20% of those without college degrees have higher WORDSUM scores than the bottom 50% of those with college degrees. And the ratio in raw numbers between these two in the GSS is almost even; that is, there are nearly as many people without college degrees who have WORDSUM scores above the 50th percentile of college graduates as those with college degrees.

This is why WORDSUM scores have dropped among college graduates despite the fact that many more of the intelligent are now going to college and receiving bachelor’s degrees. The modal WORDSUM score in the population is 6, and one must consider that the weight of each class matters a great deal in relation to the mean (lots of middle scores count more than a few high scores). Additionally the sorting is imperfect, and a substantial number of dumb are going to college and receiving degrees while a non-trivial number of intelligent are not receiving college degrees. Here is the distribution of WORDSUM scores for whites, of all ages, between 1974-2008:


Note: Those who do not have college degrees and have WORDSUM scores of 10 are disproportionately older. Among the age group 25-40 in 1998-2008 nearly 80% who score 10 have college degrees or higher.


  1. #1 Dave S
    September 26, 2009

    “making college students less intelligence” – very amusing!

  2. #2 Douglas Knight
    September 26, 2009

    In the previous post you labeled one group “no college” but now you label it “no bachelors.” Are these intended to be the same group? The new label makes it clearly exhaustive, but I had interpreted “no college” to mean not even starting community college.

    The not started college group is down to 50%, so if the complementary “some college” group has higher IQ, neither group can be average. Whereas bachelors are small enough that their IQ can move around while the complement stays fixed at average.

  3. #3 Bjørn Østman
    September 26, 2009

    More smart people go to college, making college students less intelligence

    Also making them less proficient at spelling?

  4. #4 Jason Malloy
    September 26, 2009

    20 years ago almost no one with an IQ below 85 had a college degree, but 1998-2008 contains a visible contingent of Wordsums 0-3 with degrees. People with IQs in the 60s-70s.

  5. #5 razib
    September 26, 2009

    n the previous post you labeled one group “no college” but now you label it “no bachelors.” Are these intended to be the same group? The new label makes it clearly exhaustive, but I had interpreted “no college” to mean not even starting community college.

    yeah, i mislabelled it, the “no college” included those who didn’t have a bachelor’s. so i changed the label.

    Also making them less proficient at spelling?

    1) spelling is not my strength.

    2) formulating coherent titles is not my strength suit right before i go to sleep, so i really should learn from that. probably the best strategy is to schedule for the next day, but late enough that i can proofread the next morning.

  6. #6 John Emerson
    September 26, 2009

    HS graduation rates 1870-1998

    Literacy rates 1870-1979

    Those are the first things I Googled, and I don’t know anything about sources or methodologies.

    Note that in 1900 the HS graduation rate was 6.4%, but the literacy rate was 89.3%, and native-born white literacy rate was 95.8%. Even black literacy was 55.5%. So you had literacy without much schooling.

    One big change in the last century is the increased importance specifically of formal schooling and accreditation. Reading 19th C. history you’ll frequently run into practicing lawyers and statesmen with only 5 or 6 years of formal education — law was an apprenticeship and didn’t require college.

    Literacy only describes a floor, and doesn’t tell you anything about the higher or even the average educational level. But is seems that illiteracy is lower now, and the median level of education is higher, and there’s a much higher proportion of very well educated people, for any definition of “very well educated”.

    But at the same time, the BA-BS is deflated, relatively and possibly absolutely, simply because 30%+ of the population has one now, instead of 1-2%.

    The good old days was also the glory days of the gentleman’s C, before they let the Jews into the Ivy League to ruin everything for everyone, and a lot of people came out of college with a smattering of Latin, literature, and history, plus expertise in billiards, whist, and partying. (America was weak in the whoring category during that period, for churchy reasons).

    Some of the alarm over American education, which has been constant since 1955 (Sputnik) is simply because people need much more (formal) education now than they used to, and many don’t have it. But some of it comes from a wide array of other agendas, from social conservativism to lobbying for more school spending.

  7. #7 Clark
    September 28, 2009

    20 years ago almost no one with an IQ below 85 had a college degree, but 1998-2008 contains a visible contingent of Wordsums 0-3 with degrees. People with IQs in the 60s-70s.

    Dare one ask their major? (grin)

  8. #8 Uncle Al
    September 28, 2009

    Stupidity (ignorance plus ineducability) is the Official objective qualification for university diversity matriculation. The rub with rule of the disempowered is that there is always a cohort even less qualified, a worse victim, and more screwed to Hell than the worst contemporary standard. A culture of stupid has advanced from 1970s’ pre-schools to 1990’s PhD dissertations to 2010 universal intellectual squalor gorging upon massive subsidies.

    In 1836 it was McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer. Wass wif dat? Rather than foster brilliance we allocate for its suppression.

    Theorists boast promiscuity while empiricists pay child support. In vivo veritas! The 2008 Los Angeles Unified School District had 694,288 students in 1177 schools and a real world 40+% high school dropout rate. 8.9% of its students were White. The California Academic Performance Index examination – reported by race in Los Angeles Times “California section” page B3, 05 September 2008 – allows us to norm scores as a White IQ of 100 in high school. Of the 60% of high school entries that are graduated, the tested weighted average IQ is 84 (1 sigma = 15).

    9.4% of the 1177 LAUSD schools met or exceeded Official API 800 score standard ( normed 98 IQ). LAUSD 2008 budget was $20 billion, average $28,786/student-year. Special education (retards) were allocated $55,286/student-year. Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) students were allocated an extra $84.62/student-year, $0.48/student-day.

    Diversity works!

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