Thursday, February 15, 2007

Looking again at southern intelligence: I was watching a 1993 video about juveniles and the death penalty and said to myself, "All these deathrow teens are dumb white Southerners," and it got me curious again about the idea that whites from that part of the country ain't so bright. When I looked at educational levels in an earlier post, the Southeast was low, but the West South Central Division (Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas) was not. The General Social Survey (GSS) showed us previously that education and IQ are only moderately correlated, so let's look at the GSS's measure of intelligence--the number of vocabulary words out of 10 answered correctly. I list the divisional means from highest to lowest for whites only:

Mean vocabulary score

New England 6.65
Pacific 6.53
Middle Atlantic 6.52
Mountain 6.48
West North Central 6.33

USA 6.25

East North Central 6.14
South Atlantic 6.07
West South Central 6.00
East South Central 5.42

The stereotype is confirmed: the lowest three divisions are all southern. But the East North Central division (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI) is also below average. The Mountain states in someways feel like the South, but as we saw with data on Mormons, folks in that region are not dumb.

So what's the reason for low Southern averages, especially in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky? A history of inbreeding? And folks from down there, don't get sensitive: we recognize that you have your Faulkners.


  1. Robert: Right, I plan to do blacks also to see if the pattern is the same.

  2. Emphasis on education and merit based competition are less among Southern whites than among whites in other areas of the country and always have been, from day one. Read “Albion’s Seed” about the four principal UK groups which were the first waves of whites to colonize America.

    In contrast the WASPs of the North who settled in New England and in Pennsylvania and other Mid Atlantic states were two different groups of predominantly middle class Brits who valued education enormously, though initially with a highly religious slant. Religious but in a self discovering way. Puritans and Quakers though both groups were broader than those particular religious sects.

    Thesis of the book is that these initial folkways have had an enduring effect on the regional characteristics of America. He describes the folkways in a nuanced and fascinatingly detailed way.

    As well other than the relatively small number of gentry Brits who became the planter/slaveholder class of the South, most WASPs who settled in the South both in the tidewater areas and later in the uplands (two different groups arriving at two different times from two different UK regions) were drawn from considerably lower and certainly less entrepreneurial levels of UK society, and hence might well have been mostly lower IQ slices of the UK gene pool. (He doesn’t talk about genes.)

  3. I'd say it's a current migration trend: smart people go where they can get rich, do research, be creative, or any combination. These places are pretty exclusively in the Bos-Wash corridor and the Pacific Coast. And though the Mountain region isn't very creative or yuppie (except maybe Denver), there are lots of research / academic opportunities.

    If you're from the South or Midwest and are smart, you go to college and end up far away (though some return to Atlanta or Chicago).

    So, just a here-and-now "brain drain."

  4. What if temperate-adapted whites can't handle high heat and humidity? Protein does denature at high temperatures. Their brains may be cooked.

  5. Some possibilities:

    As mentioned by Agnostic, migration of the talented and ambitious out of the South since the civil war.

    Near universal participation in battle in the Civil war by Southern whites since slaves could do the manual labor. This is coupled by higher casualty rates in the Southern Army. Low-ranking officers, (the more intelligent than enlisted men) usually have higher casualty.

    Also, the wealthy (more intelligent?) in the North could and did buy their way out of serving.

  6. Agnostic—

    If you're from the South or Midwest and are smart, you go to college and end up far away (though some return to Atlanta or Chicago).

    So, just a here-and-now "brain drain."

    Except I think this was always true. If you wanted your offspring to get a first rate higher education before the civil war you sent them up north, to e.g. Harvard or Princeton. Admittedly a MUCH smaller slice of the population found any great need for higher education, but there was still that tendency.

    As well the opportunities of industry and large scale national trade that came with the railroads and steamship happened much sooner and much more extensively in the north, partly because there wasn’t the plantation slavery avenue of direct investment up there (although there was much northern participation in the trading and financing of slave produced commodities).

  7. Anonymous3:53 AM

    Not only are YOU a moron, but a hypocritical one at that. Your writing may possibly be at the 4th grade level - perhaps you should take a look closer to home before critizing others.

    Furthermore, yes, the South does seem to be filled with idiots, like yourself, but race has, at least in the recent past, played a major role in that respect. Accelerated schools actually had to lower their admission standards (as well as several other key factors) in an effort to have certain ethnic groups in the mix.

    Finally, yes, I live in the South - I have for years (far too long) - but I was not born here, therefore not raised by the locals. I do, however, have a much better perspective on the problems than you, that's for sure.


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