Sunday, April 30, 2017

Coming collegiate collapse

The previous post on the apparent decline in the average IQ of college graduates in the US over the last fifty years used the GSS' 10-question Wordsum vocabulary test as a basis for those IQ estimates. As was pointed out, vocabulary tends to increase with age (through the late fifties before peaking and then beginning to decline). That incremental increase through adulthood is very modest, however, reducing the gap between those who graduated in the 1960s and those who graduated in the 2010s by less than 1 IQ point.

To illustrate the change over time more starkly, the following graph shows, among those who spent at least four years in college, the percentages by year of participation in the survey who scored either 9 out of 10 or a perfect 10 out of 10 on the Wordsum test. Responses are restricted to those aged 25-40 at the time of participation so potential age confounds are eliminated:

The questions have been the same since the survey's inception (see them here).

Forty years ago, 1-in-2 graduates could ace the Wordsum test. Today, 1-in-6 can. That's just about perfectly in line with what we'd expect to see if the top 6% or so of the population is capable of acing the test.

Four decades ago, 12% of the population had degrees. Today, 33% does. If, in the early seventies, that 12% roughly corresponded with the top 12% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population that aced the Wordsum test would comprise 1 in 2 of those grads. If today that 33% roughly corresponds with the top 33% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population acing the Wordsum test would be a bit more than 1 in 6 of today's grads. QED*.

This is a devastating refutation of contemporary educational romanticism. College isn't anything close to a panacea. Education doesn't increase intelligence. It doesn't even appear, for most people, to do much in the way of increasing knowledge. These ten vocabulary words are all common enough that it's almost inconceivable that after four years of college a student who paid attention and engaged with the classroom material would not have come into contact with all of them on multiple occasions.

The incentive structure for higher education is extremely perverse (or more charitably, is setup on the genuine presumption that spending time in college reliably increases earning power).

Student loans are the most difficult types of loans to have discharged, so lenders who lend to students are making what amount to government-guaranteed loans. After a few years interest on those loans is at 5% or 6%. Lenders are thus earning 5% on loans that putatively carry zero risk. That's easy money for lenders.

The universities are getting the money from the lenders so they have no incentive to restrict student enrollment either (unless they're top-tier universities who trade on restricted access).

The zeitgeist says if you don't go to college then you're a loser, so lots of people who have no business being there end up going.

Outstanding student loan debt in the US is now at $1 trillion and climbing, but a huge chunk of that value is illusory value. Many of those loans aren't going to be paid back. The people holding them do not have the prospects or the ability to ever pay them off. Lenders are booking them as essentially no-risk assets, but they're not.

I don't purport to be a financial expert--let alone an Economist!--but I can't shake this feeling that we've seen something eerily similar to this before.

As the Z-Man is fond of saying, this will not end well.

GSS variables used: YEAR, EDUC(16-20), AGE(25-40), WORDSUM(9-10), BORN(1--except for 1974 and 1976 as the variable wasn't introduced until 1978)

* Okay, not quite. About 12% of the population aces the Wordsum test. There is a correlation between intelligence and educational attainment, but it's far from perfect and is becoming more and more attenuated as time goes on.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Average IQ of college graduates by decade of graduation

The mean IQ scores, converted from GSS wordsum results, assuming a national average of 98 and a standard deviation of 15, of those who attended college for at least four years by the decade they graduated in* (n = 5,124, though n for 2010s is only 49 and should be seen as merely suggestive--the trend is clear regardless):

Graduated inIQ

The change in the intelligence of the average college graduate over the last fifty years approaches the IQ gap separating whites and blacks.

This is an inevitable consequence of increasing the share of the population that attends college. In the sixties, 10% of American adults had college degrees. Since then that figure has more than tripled, to 33% today.

To say we're well into the territory of diminishing returns is to understate the problem--we're past the point of negative returns. Most Americans in college today are not benefiting from being there. They're foregoing work to accrue debt for degrees that, if they increase earning power at all, do so only marginally and they're picking up an unhelpful sense of entitlement in the process.

GSS variables used: COHORT(1940-1949)(1950-1959)(1960-1969)(1970-1979)(1980-1989)(1990-1999), EDUC(16-20), WORDSUM, BORN(1)

* Values for each decade come from those born two decades prior, so the time of actual graduation is approximate. For example, the result for the 1960s comes from the wordsum scores of those born in the 1940s; the result for the 1970s from those born in the 1950s, and so on. The approach isn't perfect--some people graduate later in life and a few while still in their teens--but it is an improvement on previous approaches.

**Update** Restricting the age of those evaluated only very marginally lowers the mean wordsum for the earlier cohorts (less than half of 1 IQ point on average).

Also, to reiterate, this measures respondents by total number of years spent in school. There are some--more now than in the past, presumably--who spend eight years in college without ever actually getting a degree.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The United States is not and has never been a nation of immigrants

While the US is not and has never been a "nation of immigrants", Israel was almost from the beginning. In the 1950s, around half--maybe more, it's tough to tell with certainty--of those living in the country were immigrants. Still today a larger share Israel's population is foreign-born than has ever been the case throughout the entire history of the US.

The following countries* also have larger immigrant population shares--right now, in 2017--than the US ever has at any time from 1776 to the present:

New Zealand
The United Arab Emirates
Hong Kong
Saudi Arabia

Parenthetically, while technically further refuting the "nation of immigrants" mendacity, this list largely serves rhetorical and polemical purposes.

Other things being equal, geographical size substantially factors into determining the population share of a country's immigrants. If One Worlders had their way and the globe became a single political entity--called, say, the United Nations--the percentage of immigrants would drop to zero overnight. If the US dissolved into multiple countries, the immigrant share in each would likely (though not necessarily) be higher than was the immigrant share of the former United States as a whole.

That said, Canada is larger than the US and Australia is nearly the same size as the contiguous 48 states.

"Immigrant" is a political description and as such is of less importance than are cultural or identity descriptions. Identity is greater than culture and culture is greater than politics. Consequently, in addition to being inaccurate, referring to America as a "nation of immigrants" is ultimately a politically arbitrary designation. It's importance is consequently limited and superficial in significance.

The culture and especially the identity of immigrants--or non-immigrants--is what matters. The immigrant in 1890 and the immigrant in 2017 have as much--or as little--in common as they have in shared--or unshared--culture and identity.

* Among countries with populations of at least one million people. The list gets substantial longer if smaller countries are included.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Half of those 50 or older who voted for Clinton support airstrike on Syria

From Reuters-Ipsos polling (n = 2,918), support among Hillary voters aged 50 or older for the airstrikes on Syria:

Hillary voters under 30 and aged 30-49:

A similar age pattern exists among Trump voters, just depressingly shifted nearly 50 points in the direction of support:

Stripping away political orientation, then, we see that there is a substantial generational divide when it comes to policing the world:

This is Feryl's wheelhouse. Boomers hate the idea of being "isolationists".

Supporting that assessment, there are marginal differences among white and non-white Hillary voters, with the former only slightly more supportive. The modest differences we see among Hillary's coalition is accounted for by age, as older Hillary voters are of course whiter than younger ones are:

For those who want to maintain the 666-dimensional-chess analogy, the attack could be seen as trying to further split the Hillary and Bernie wings of the Democrat party by driving the wedge hard into the coalition of the fringes, while simultaneously bringing butthurt cucks and neocons back into the fold without much political downside.

That strikes me as fanciful thinking, however. And I intentionally use "fanciful" rather than "wishful" here. As Z-Man puts it:
Trump is wildly unpredictable, at least he seems unpredictable. That’s a big part of how he plays the game. He wants everyone to think the range of choices for him include some collection of unknown options that no one has yet to consider. That keeps foes on the defensive, making them tentative, even when they have the advantage. By appearing to have no clear strategy and routinely breaking old habits, Trump appears to be a wild man, who is capable of anything. Therefore, there’s no way to plan for him.
He greatly expanded the Overton Window and provided a template for hungry, aspiring politicians to follow in the future. We can hope for him to be something more than a transitional figure, but we'd be foolish to expect it.

Friday, April 21, 2017


America is a white nation.

America is a Christian nation.

America is an Anglophone nation.

America is a nation built and led by white men.

America is a heterosexual nation.

America is a nation of male breadwinners and female homemakers.

America is a nation of natives born on its soil.

All of these assertions have been accurate for most of the country's history and remain accurate today. In contrast, the idea that America is a "nation of immigrants" is not accurate now nor was it accurate at any point in the past.

Despite that, none of those true statements are perceived as legitimate arguments for why America should continue to embrace these aspects of its character, while the mendacious falsity is treated as an argument for finally making it true by deluging the country with foreigners.

The phrase "nation of immigrants" first appeared in The New York Times in 1923 and for the first time in book form in 1935:

Truman, in 1952, was the first president to make use of it while in office.

Peak immigration occurred in 1890 when those born outside the US made up 14.7% of the country's population. At its historical height, then, 1-in-7 people living in the US were immigrants in a nation now putatively said to be comprised of them.

At the time of the nation-wrecking Hart-Celler act in 1965, only 1-in-20 residents were immigrants.

Anyone who claims America is a nation of immigrants is appallingly ignorant, lying through his teeth, or both--and there's a good chance he has to go back.