Saturday, March 13, 2010

IQ is relevant; it should not be invisible

A recent Econ Talk podcast with Katherine Newman of Princeton featured her work on low wage workers in Harlem during the nineties. I find it worth noting because it serves as a great example of why discussing socio-economic outcomes without taking IQ into account is a fruitless excercise. Roberts never broaches the subject and Newman never mentions it, either:
NEWMAN: I broke the findings or the patterns into three groups [of roughly equal size]. There was a group we just finished talking about. I call them the "high flyers"--the people who did very well--and did better than they expected or I would've ever expected.

ROBERTS: Some making $50,000-$70,000 a year because they got that certificate or they switched jobs.

NEWMAN: They got that job with FedEx, etc ... Then you have this middle group that I would describe as people who had made headway, who were ahead of inflation, but not by much. They weren't really very secure, but they were better off. They had better jobs. They moved into retail from fast food for example, so they had jobs that were less dirty and despised.

ROBERTS: A little bit more prestigious.

NEWMAN: Yeah, a little bit more prestigious. ... Their wages didn't shift that much. They didn't fall behind, but they didn't shift up much. They didn't fall behind, and they moved up a little in prestige, but they weren't earning a lot more and they certainly weren't going to be able to, by themselves, make a huge difference in their standard of living.

And then there was a group at the bottom, that really was in trouble. They really were skidding along the bottom, in and out of the labor force.
Newman was focusing only on those who were counted as part of the workforce (ie, those who are either employed or trying to become employed). Roberts goes on to observe that the success of that upper third demonstrates that the assertion that urban underclass culture is virtually impossible to escape from is false--a significant number to attain some upperward mobility. Newman agrees with this but neither she nor Roberts takes a stab at definitively explaining why some make it, some exist on the cusp, and some remain steadily on the bottom. Newman ends up recommending more financial aid to allow low-wage earners to pursue higher education as a way of increasing the percentage of those who pull themselves out of impoverished urban environment.

I am not asserting that IQ alone explains why those included in the study of several years duration ended up where they did, or even that it is the most important variable to consider. But in studies like these, some variant of an IQ test, like the wonderlic, initially administered to those monitored, would be of enormous value. When it is lacking, it's hard to draw much of anything meaningful from the subsequent discussions, and the resulting "policy solutions" pursued to ameliorate things are hopelessly incomplete. (I am hardly making a novel observation, I know).


Al Fin said...

Executive Function -- including the ability to defer gratification for future gain -- is more important than IQ for life success, all things being equal. (also persistence in the face of difficulty, ability to control one's temper, etc)

Better to have healthy EF plus high IQ, of course. But if you only look at IQ you will miss the more significant EF metric.

EF is not the same as emotional intelligence, no. But there is overlap of EF with both IQ and most views of emotional intelligence.

But EF is as heritable as IQ. More interestingly, the developmental window for EF closes at about age 7. If not developed by then, fuggiduhbowdet.

Audacious Epigone said...


I've seen you make that assertion on several occasions, but I wonder if there are quantifiable measures affirming it that you might point me to. I'm not as familiar with how the two measures interact as I should be.

Max said...

Window for IQ closes pretty early too in terms -if you put kid in a very hostile environment age 0 to 6 he will risk to fall far short his genetic potential.

EF is definitely important but I d say without at least 1 std dev above norm (115) you will not really get anywhere, unless leeching of affirmative action policies is your definition of success

The way I look into it - environment can only allow you to approach your potential .And your potential is determined solely by your genes. The better your genes are - higher the ceiling, and generally environment in first world countries (heck even in 3d world, save for garbage dumps like Africa) is not hostile to the extremes needed to significantly alter the gene expression (e.g. make a 160 iq child retarded)

al fin said...

I suggest this 95 pp slideshow:

It's pretty clear and explains a lot of the problems with standardising a single EF score that corresponds with a "g" score for IQ.

Once psychometricians can devise a standard metric for EF along with IQ in routine standard testing, the predictive power should improve significantly. It may take a while.

Audacious Epigone said...



It is interesting to me how much of an overlap there appears to be between IQ and EF (although I realize they are not synonymous concepts). Revisit pages 15 and 16 of the ppt--these EF deficits could almost as easily be categorized as IQ deficits.