Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Odd religions and IQ: The discussion of Mormonism connected to Romney's run for President confirmed what I had observed before: lots of people assume that members of small, odd religions must be dumb. How else could you believe that stuff? Well, data have a way of disconfirming as well as confirming stereotypes.

The General Social Survey, unfortunately, throws together many of these smalls sects into the generic "Protestant" category, so I will have to use the question about which religion you were raised in, on the assumption that most people do not switch. For some reason, they give a more specific breakdown with this question. Shown below are mean IQs for whites, and I've included some mainline churches for the sake of comparison:


Mean IQ for whites

Episcopalian 109.9
Lutheran 107.4
Mormon 105.7
Presbyterian 102.3
United Methodists 101.8
Southern Baptists 98.0
Assembly of God 94.5
Pentecostal 92.2

Episcopalians at the top is a real shocker, and other mainstream churches are also above average. But people who didn't know better might surprised to find that, in terms of intelligence, Mormons are very much like these other groups. They are not similar to Pentecostals or members of the Assembly of God, as the numbers above indicate. You can see a bit of a North-South contrast here, and Mormons are northerners. They are heavily English and Scandanavian.

While you can find exceptions, evangelicals and fundamentalists don't believe in things that, to a mainline Protestant, are completely from another planet, yet these groups tend to have below-average IQs. Mormons, with beliefs that make some people really flip out, are a relatively smart group. There simply is no strong correlation between the perceived strangeness of beliefs and IQ. I'm sure many people think it's crazy to circumcise infant boys, but in case you haven't heard, Jews are smart as hell. (Keep in mind that samples are smaller than they should be for the small churches. Also--while a skeptic can claim that many of the smart folks have left the odd churches of their childhood, research shows that most Americans don't switch, and a child's IQ is positively correlated with that of his parents.)

92 comments:

  1. I looked at Mormon IQ in the GSS here last February.

    By the Way, Stark and Bainbridge show the people who join cults are really more often whiterpeople: more educated, upperclass, urbanites, in areas with weaker ties to traditional religion.

    So the idea that dumb people join the new religions with "wackier" beliefs is faulty. On average, more educated people join cults.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't follow religious sects (I'm not saying that just to sound cool), so what's the rough geographical distribution of these groups?

    I'm thinking of your post about how whites raised in New England, Mountain, and Mid-Atlantic states were smarter than those from the various Southern states.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Assuming this is a real property of "joining new religions" rather than correlating with latitude and altitude (and so, probably environmental stress during development), it makes sense that higher IQ people would be more likely to join them -- you have to wrap your brain around whatever beliefs and practices there are, not just take it for granted. You probably have to do some decent studying as well.

    ReplyDelete
  4. assman, jews are really, really, overrepresented in new religious movements. the jewish flavor of white american buddhism and hare krishna are expressions of this. i don't think it has to do with 'mastering' any esoteric religious doctrines, stark & bainbridge show that people usually join through social networks. prolly has to do with the fact that the upper classes have more latitude to experiment with heterodox cults, as well as the fact that traditional christianity is not seen positively by elite jews and post-protestants (the demographic data for jews of the christian religion shows that they resemble other christians much more than jews with no religion or jews of jewish religion).

    I don't follow religious sects (I'm not saying that just to sound cool), so what's the rough geographical distribution of these groups?


    in the south there is a strong SES correlarly with religious orientation. people who move up the class ladder will go from baptist to methodist to presbyterian to episcopalian. similar dynamics apply across the country.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I suppose it would be too much to ask for an Episcopalian breakdown by high and low church?

    ReplyDelete
  6. rob: Right, the GSS did not ask that question.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What have you got as average IQ for Jews within the GSS? Maybe the GSS trends high or low. Maybe the Episcopalians are smarter than the Jews!

    BTW, circumcision cuts down on cervical cancer for the partner and makes the penis easier to clean, so it's not totally dumb.

    ReplyDelete
  8. sfg: the Jewish mean is 109.0, so yes the Episcopalian mean--for whites, anyway--is higher at 109.9

    ReplyDelete
  9. Compared to American Jews, how do Episcopalians do on Nobel ratios?

    I would assume that Episcopalians don't show the same performance-visual IQ gap that Jews do, but I don't really know.

    ReplyDelete
  10. In the post-Civil War period, it was common for ambitious young men flocking to New York to make it big in business to convert to Episcopalianism. That way older business leaders who were Episcopalians could see you were in church every Sunday. A lot of the converts were coming from post-Puritan religions such as Congregationalism, or from Methodism. So, Episcopalianism became very upper class. That's why some upper crust boarding schools have Catholic-sounding names like "St. Paul's" -- Episcopalianism is Anglicanism, which, due to Henry VIII, is Catholicism minus the pope and plus divorce.

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New study: High rate of underweight black newborns due to genes, not racism

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