Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Amerindians vs. Americans of English descent: In the 10,000 Year Explosion, Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending argue that centuries of agricultural life selected for self-denial, selfishness, and industriousness. Groups like American Indians that do not have long histories of farming should have fewer people with these traits. Let's take a first stab using the GSS to see if the idea is supported.

With so much financial aid and such low academic standards, pretty much anyone who is not really slow can not only graduate high school, but can get years of education beyond that. Nowadays, the real question seems to be, do you have the patience to sit through more years of boring classes before you start making money. The mean years of education for Amerindians ages 30-49 measured in this decade is 11.7. Let's take Americans of English or Welsh background as the comparison group: the GSS sample for this group is large, and the English have practiced farming a long time. Their mean is 14.4 years.

For selfishness, let's use the question of whether you've given any money to a homeless person in the past year. For Amerindians it's 68%, and for the English/Welsh it's 33%. Selfish bastards.

For industriousness, let's use employment status for men ages 30-49. Measured as unemployed, laid-off, or not working temporarily, 11.4% of Amerindians are in the category, compared to 6.9% of men of English/Welsh ancestry. Three for three.

Let me know if you can think of other GSS measures.

UPDATE: I was concerned that the education measure tapped IQ much more than a future orientation, so I looked only at people in the middle range of IQ. I had to merge the last three decades to get enough cases, but the mean years of education for these Amerindians is 11.8; for the English/Welsh group, it's 14.2.


  1. Anonymous2:07 PM

    "For Amerindians it's 68%, and for the English/Welsh it's 33%. Selfish bastards."

    "... Three for three."

    I don't get it. Two for three?

  2. Cochran and Harpending claim that a long history of farming selected for the trait of hoarding your stuff. Hunter/gatherers can't save food, so they share any extra with others. But if a farmer gives away all his seed out of generosity, he will fail as a farmer.

    So three out of three predictions are supported.

  3. It's very interesting that culture, or own defined social norms, can initiate selection and evolution. In science class, evolution is presented as the result of blind mutations and natural selection. The driving force is always NATURE, the environment composed of the weather, the temperature, the hues of the landscape, the presence or absence of seasons, etc.

    But as Cochran and Harpending argue, our own institutions can affect genetic change, even if we initiate this change blindly and without direct objectives.


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