Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count by Richard Nisbett

5. Social Class and Cognitive Culture

  • Here Richard sites the reasons why lower SES children have lower IQs than higher SES children. On the biological side we have poorer nutrition before and after birth, exposure to lead and alcohol/drugs in the womb, more polluted neighborhoods, and worse medical care. As for social issues we have stresses associated with in-home and neighborhood turmoil and strife, and moving and/or attending schools where lots of children move in and out which makes the school environment less stable. In and outside of school they are surrounded by less intelligent peers, poorer teachers, larger classes, and poorer facilities. Higher SES parents read more to their children, and when they read they ask questions and expect their children to analyze as they go. For young high SES children, their IQ goes up during the summer. Meanwhile the low SES kids suffer from a cumulative summer drop. If we could somehow decrease the income gaps in the US like other countries have, it would still likely take a generation or so for the IQ difference to kick in.

6. IQ in Black and White

  • Historically whites have higher IQs than blacks although the gap has narrowed. Richard uses abundant data to show that this IQ gap is entirely caused by environmental issues. In short, whites are not genetically smarter than blacks. They just tend to grow up in better environments. In addition to the environment, stereotypes may cause blacks to underperform in integrated settings. Blacks on average have lower SES. They are much more likely to be raised by unwed mothers (72%) than whites (24%). Culture also plays a part. Black girls significantly out perform black boys who are more likely to not do homework, disrupt class, and think they can go to college on athletic scholarships so they don’t need good grades. There is also pressure to avoid being school-smart, which is what whites do.
  • Richard points out that blacks in the North were treated more equally and had good reasons to work hard. Meanwhile, southern black slaves had no incentive for hard work as it was only of benefit to the white master. When blacks migrated to Northern cities they brought this culture with them. While Irish immigrants had similar work ethic issues, (potatoes were easy to grow) they gradually overcame them thanks in part to the Catholic church. Blacks who came from West Indian cultures brought a work ethic with them that resulted from the fact that even as slaves, they could profit from their own efforts and did most of the skilled labor. This and the self-selection process that brought them here explains their higher IQ. In addition to being more likely to be poor, blacks also still face racism as shown by employment data.
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