Unseen Influences: Race, Gender, and Twins

Steven Fraser, in The Bell Curve Wars, discusses the problems with Hernstein and Murray’s genetic argument for IQ.

He points out that the Flynn effect is particularly devastating. For this reason, he finds it puzzling that they don’t recognize or acknowledge the obvious implications. Black people today are on average smarter, as far as IQ tests go, than white people were a few generations ago. By today’s normed IQ tests, white people of a century ago would now be labeled as “retarded”.

I’ve covered that territory before. What caught my attention the other day was what followed his comments on the Flynn effect. He made a further point about the weakness of the genetics hypothesis. He states that a “remarkable phenomenon commented on in the Moynihan Report of thirty years ago goes unnoticed in The Bell Curve–the prevalence of females among blacks who score high on mental tests” (Kindle Locations 914-925); he continues:

“Others who have done studies of high-IQ blacks have found several times as many females as males above the 120 IQ level. Since black males and black females have the same genetic inheritance, this substantial disparity must have some other roots, especially since it is not found in studies of high-IQ individuals in the general society, such as the famous Terman studies of high-IQ children, which followed these children on into adulthood and later life. If IQ differences of this magnitude can occur with no genetic difference at all, then it is more than mere speculation to say that some unusual environmental effects must be at work among blacks.”

This isn’t limited to any race/ethnicity. It is a gender IQ gap found across diverse other populations.

“However, these environmental effects need not be limited to blacks, for other low-IQ groups of European or other ancestries have likewise tended to have females over-represented among their higher scorers, even though the Terman studies of high-IQ individuals from the general population found no such patterns. One possibility is that females are more resistant to bad environmental conditions, as some other studies suggest. In any event, large sexual disparities in high-IQ individuals where there are no genetic-or socioeconomic-differences present a challenge to both the Herrnstein-Murray thesis and to most of their critics.”

This reminds me of the stereotype threat discussed by Claude M. Steele in Whistling Vivaldi. He shows the research about how much simple changes in environment can cause large changes in results, both for tests of academics and other activities. Women tend to test lower on math, for example. However, neutralize stereotype threat and the disparity disappears.

Environments aren’t just different between populations, but also within populations. The environmental factors that will impact a female are different than for a male, including the stereotypes and expectations placed upon genders just as happens with race. Having much shared genetics doesn’t necessarily mean that all influences are being shared.

To emphasize this point, Fraser extends his argument to an even more stark example. Twins also show great differences, something overlooked by early twin studies.

“Black males and black females are not the only groups with significant IQ differences without any genetic differences. Identical twins with significantly different birth weights also have IQ differences, with the heavier twin averaging nearly nine points higher IQ than the lighter one in some studies.’ This effect is not found where the lighter twin weighs at least six and a half pounds, suggesting that deprivation of nutrition must reach some threshold level before it has a permanent effect on the brain during its crucial early development.”

Slight changes in environment can lead to immense differences over the long term. This is because of the cumulative effect of initial conditions. One thing leads to another. Lowered nutrition or increased toxicity has its impact which gets magnified by such things as school tracking. Each effect becoming a cause and all the causal factors combining to form significant differences in end results.

To Be a Stereotype or Not

I was at work last night. I’m a parking ramp cashier. My job is basically customer service, that and taking people’s money so that I’ll let them out.

I don’t tend to react too much to anything that customers do or say. I just put on my blank professional face and do my job.

So, last night, a car pulled up with two young Asian guys. They were likely college students as the biggest increase in the University population has been Asians (Is that a stereotype?). I only mention this to give context to the interaction. The passenger leaned over and said, “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I say. The question he asks me is, “Do you like to eat hunted deer and rabbit meat?”

That amused me. He was stereotyping me. Part of me would’ve liked to have asked in return, “Do you eat raw fish and clubbed dolphins?”

It doesn’t bother me when people try to stereotype me because they usually fail to put me into the right stereotype. Yes, I’m a working class Iowan. Yes, I wear Carhartt clothing. Yes, I’m of German ancestry. But, no, I wasn’t raised in nor have I ever lived in any rural area. No, I’ve never hunted nor owned a gun. And, no, i haven’t spent my whole life in Iowa, much less the Midwest. I’m less of an Iowan than many people I know. Still, I know people who have lived here their entire lives and they don’t particularly seem any different than people I’ve known in entirely separate regions.

I may look like a rural Iowan, but I spent much of my life growing up as an upper middle class city boy. I suppose I’m comfortable looking working class because my mom raised me with a working class sensibility. I’m not interested in standing out. That makes me a more typical Midwesterner. In Iowa, there is no clear distinction between someone who grew up in a rural area and someone who grew up in an urban area, especially as in both cases it is the same Standard American English. This also might relate to how Midwestern farmers have a long history of ensuring their children are well educated, including often sending them off to college. This seems particularly evident living in Iowa City, a college town, where urban and rural populations mix freely as you only have to drive to the edge of town to find farm fields.

Of course, none of my family were farmers. I’d have to look back to the 1800s to maybe find an ancestor who farmed. But I can’t offhand say for certain that I know of even distant relatives who were farmers. However, my mom’s family is as close as the Midwest gets to what is stereotypically known as rednecks.

I don’t mind stereotypes all that much, except when they directly relate to prejudice. I wasn’t worried about suffering oppression by Asian college students and so it was a harmless incident. Sometimes stereotypes are even accurate, and some people even embrace stereotypes in pride and defiance. As for me, if someone assumed I was a depressed artsy intellectual, then they’d be right. But I’ve never tried to fit into a stereotype. I don’t dress like a depressed artsy intellectual. I do carry a backpack which has caused some people to think I was a college student because after all this is a college town, but I have no college degree.

I have no grand point to the post. I was just amused by how a foreign student perceived me in terms of how he perceived Americans and specifically Midwesterners. Many Americans, particularly from the coasts, often stereotype Midwesterners, not entirely dissimilar to how Southerners are stereotyped. I suppose people from other parts of the world see America through the lense of the American MSM that is mostly produced in coastal big cities. To a foreigner like an Asian, I could imagine the Midwest is largely known through movies: Wizard of Oz, Field of Dreams, etc (maybe some of the movies and tv shows of Superman’s youth; and who knows what else). It is quite likely that, to a foreigner, Iowa might as well as be Oklahoma, Tennessee or North Dakota.

Stereotypes are odd things. They aren’t always incorrect. Even when they are caricatures, there can be elements of generalized truths. Are there many Iowans who hunt and eat what they hunt? Sure. But stereotypes tend to go way beyond such simple probabilistic correlations. Even if I did hunt, what would that say about me? Not much.

This is relevant to my recent thinking. One book I finished reading a while back is Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele. It is about stereotype threat which is a heavily researched issue. One thing that is clear is that stereotypes can have very powerful results, even when there is otherwise no active effort of prejudice and oppression. Stereotypes have a way of becoming pervasive in all aspects of society and become embedded deep within our thinking, both in the thinking of those who benefit from it and those who suffer from it.

Did that Asian guy think I was less smart, less worldly or less worthy in some way simply because I looked like a lower class rural person? I’m sure that would be a common element to such a stereotype. How far away is that stereotype from that of the redneck, the hillbilly and white trash? For those who are perceived in that light their entire life, what impact would stereotype threat have on them? For those who live in a society that has treated them that way and expected that of them, what kind of life would that lead to? The structural prejudice directed at poor rural whites isn’t all that different from the structural racism directed at poor urban blacks.

Asians come to America and they don’t really understand the history behind such stereotypes. Many white and/or upper class Americans also don’t understand. Stereotypes are so powerful because of this lack of understanding.