Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Race, IQ, and culture: Steve Sailer has fascinating posts up, quoting William Saletan and John McWhorter discussing race, IQ, and Sailer himself. I'm interested in the claim made by McWhorter that blacks underperform because they lack a tradition of reading. The General Social Survey asked 781 Americans in 2006 how often they read the newspaper. Answers ranged from "every day" (1) to "never" (5). Since many younger people get their news from the Internet, and perhaps more whites than blacks, let's limit the analysis to those over 50. Here are the means by race:

Mean newspaper reading frequency (N = 314)

White 2.08
Blacks 2.48

Keep in mind that high averages mean low reading. These numbers indicate that whites read more often than blacks, and the difference is about three-tenths of a standard deviation.

So whites read more, but is this due to a culture of reading? If there is some general force influencing a population's behavior, that force should reduce the variance of the behavior; in other words, whites should be more similar than blacks in their reading habits. If blacks have no reading culture or a more anemic reading culture, you should see blacks more often following their individual preferences: some will read, some won't. We shouldn't compare standard deviations because they are influenced by sample size, and whites are much more numerous than blacks. The coefficient of variation is used to adjust for differences in group size:

Reading coefficient of variation

Whites 0.65
Blacks 0.60

Once again, if whites have a reading culture and blacks don't, you would expect whites to be more similar in terms of their reading than blacks. These numbers show they are not. Whites are slightly more diverse. Based on the GSS, McWhorter seems to be wrong.


  1. Sum Youn-guy5:55 PM

    We already know McWharter’s subjective oral culture theory is wrong. The black-white achievement gap also shows up in oral tests such as the backward digit span test, and in non-oral, non-written tests such as the Raven's Matrices.

    The gap actually shows up more strongly on the oral backward digit span test than on a written test such as the SAT.

  2. Very neat piece of analysis.

    My feeling is that this brief and simple study actually operates at a higher intellectual level than most of the published research I see.

    A published academic paper would be full of context, details and multiple regression 'controls' (all of which come from a cookbook learned at Masters level) - but most authors would not think of the additional analysis of the CoV comparison.

    They would miss it because most professional researchers are not _really_ interested in what they are doing, they are not _really_ trying to find out the truth about the world - they are _really_ trying to achieve professional success.

  3. Anonymous11:36 PM

    Hey great post. Thought I'm not sure I agree with you 100%. Keep em coming. Are you interested in having anyone guest post opposing views?


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