Thursday, June 24, 2010

Low southern Italian IQ?

Richard Lynn's paper on southern Italian IQ has generated criticism. He finds that the north-south gap is large and attributes low southern IQ to admixture from the Middle East and North Africa. 

I don't have any data that bear directly on the question--and, no, I don't want anyone to put Nancy Pelosi forward as evidence--but we can see how Italian Americans stack up to other white Americans, and it is true that most Italian immigrants have come from southern Italy.

Using GSS data, I set the white native-born American mean to 100 and calculated mean IQs (based on a vocabulary test) for each country of origin (sample size = 12,522). I also omitted Jewish Americans since their high scores can affect results.

Mean IQ--whites only

Lithuania 105.2
Austria 105.1*
England/Wales 103.8*
Denmark 103.7*
Czechoslovakia 103.7
Russia 103.4*
Scotland 103.3*
Norway 102.7*
Yugoslavia 102.7
Switzerland 102.4
Sweden 102.2
Hungary 101.5
Finland 101.1
Greece 100.6
Ireland 100.9
Italy 100.8
France 100.5
Poland 100.4
Germany 99.8
Belgium 99.2
Other Canada 99.2
French Canada 98.7*
Portugal 97.9
Spain 97.6
Netherlands 97.2*
Africa 95.9
Amerindian 95.1*
Puerto Rico 94.2*
American only 91.9*
Mexico 89.5*

*significantly different from the white average

Italian Americans are basically in the middle. There are two southern European countries with below-average numbers--Portugal and Spain (many of these may be Latin Americans who identify with Spain)--but such is not the case with Italians or Greeks. 

Once again, this doesn't really tell us much about southern Italians. Long-distance immigration tends to select for more intelligent people, and many Italian immigrants, perhaps a significant percentage of them unsuccessful and less intelligent, returned home. We can say that even if Lynn were right, Americans of Italian descent are not out of the mainstream. 

By the way, see how low the average is for white Mexican Americans. From what I've seen in GSS and ADD Health data, Mex-Ams who describe themselves as white are not much smarter than those who say they are not white.


  1. Gotta be some Jews in that Russian number somehow.

  2. Anonymous12:25 PM

    Why is there such a big gap between Germans and Austrians? Are they that different?

    1. Yes, they are two different distinct nations.

  3. Anonymous7:54 PM

    Oh, my dad wouldn't like looking at that as his parents were from Naples. When he was alive, I don't think my dad realized what a mess Naples was--full of lazy people, although there is something to be said for their philosophy of life, I suppose.

    However, all 9 children of my grandparents, who arrived at Ellis Island in 1905, produced children who graduated from college. Not bad-- from Naples to college in two generations.

    My great-grandparents struck out for Argentina, but my grandfather decided to stay behind in Naples for a few years. He married there, had two kids, and then struck out with his young family for the USA.

    My background is Italian, Irish, and Cherokee. Ye gads. Well, I have had a look at my IQ score from my teen years. Guess I lucked out.

  4. Nanonymous8:41 PM

    Northern Italy is clean, prosperous and not especially corrupt. It is also close to Switzerland and Austria. Southern Italy is dirty, poor and corrupt. It is close to Africa and Albania. That's about all one needs to know. There has to be a measurable difference. The only debate possible is just how big it is.

    Ron, immigrants are a very biased sample. You can see it, e.g., in the African number from your sample.

  5. Ron,
    What you have found regarding the IQ of Hispanics originating from Mexico, parallels what the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has discovered in Mexico. PISA reading and mathematics test scores for Mexicans taught reading and mathematics in Spanish are as bad, if not worse, than those in the US. PISA officials estimate over 50% of Mexican 15-year old youth today are functionally illiterate and thus unable to compete in Mexico's economy. PISA tests have also shown 2/3s of Mexican students could not consistently apply basic mathematical skills to understand an everyday situation. This situation has obvious ramifications for future U.S. economic competitiveness and attractiveness, if they are allowed to remain here, in comparison with other OECD economies where only ~20 percent of students showed similar deficiencies.

    Lastly, all Latin American students perform poorly on PISA international tests where even the best students tested, score only as well as an average student in competitive OECD economies.

  6. I've collected A LOT of world IQ data (1000-1500+ studies), that I'm hoping to share one day. IQ does indeed drop sharply in the South and Southeast of Europe, and this is pronounced within Italy and Spain.

    There were dozens of IQ studies in the first half of the 20th century where Italian-Americans scored very similar to blacks - and much lower than most European immigrants. This gap quickly closed between the 1930s and 1950s.

  7. Thomas Sowell collected school IQ records for over 70,000 students for the Ethnic Minorities Research Project (See Ethnic America).

    Here are the Italian American numbers by decade:


    About 80% of Italian immigrants were from southern Italy before the 1924 immigration cut-off. Many Italians did return to Italy in the early part of the century, but this doesn't correspond to the years the gap closed; these were American-born Italians and their children.

    1. Their IQ's have increased as they've mixed with other European ethnic groups in America. Robert De Niro is the typical "Italian-American" today. He is mostly of Irish, English, French, German and Dutch ancestry. Leonardo Dicaprio? Half German at least. Marlon Brando? German and Irish with no ancestry from any part of Italy. Ray Liotta? Scottish, adopted by Italian-Americans. Southerners who have not mixed can easily be found on television shows like Jersey Shore (Pauly D, The Situation, Sammi Sweetheart), Real Housewives of New Jersey (Gorga family), Mob Wives, Jerseylicious, Carfellas, etc.

      The truth is that there is no such thing as an Italian people, genetically or culturally speaking. Southern Italians are mostly of Balkan, Levantine, Norman, Spanish and North African origin, different from those north of Rome. Ariana Grande, for example, is a southerner who once took extreme pride in her "Italian" heritage, until she found out she was actually of Greek/North African descent. She was very upset, stating she felt her whole life was a lie:

      South of Rome only became part of Italy via colonization, genocide and ethnic cleansing in the late 1800's. The invasion and slaughter of 1 million men, women and children resulted in the mass exodus of who we now know to be as Italian-Americans. They were robbed not only of their homeland and identity, but the knowledge of the atrocities committed against their ancestors:

  8. Normalized against the Germans and the Irish in the EMRP, though, the Sowell data still indicates an IQ gap for Italian-Americans (inconsistent with the GSS):


  9. Well here's one sample point that contradicts your data:

    Jersey Shore

  10. Saint Louis11:34 AM

    It looks like Jews weren't entirely omitted from the Lithuanian scores.

    Also, how accurate is country of origin considering the amount of mixing in the US? For example, my great-grandfather came from Naples, making me 1/4 Italian, but I'm also English, German, French, Scottish, Irish, Danish, Portuguese, and Iroquois. Maybe I'm more mixed than most, but finding someone, especially in the Northeast, who's say, equal parts Italian, Irish, Polish, and German wouldn't be all that unusual. How are they classified?

  11. Saint Louis: You raise an important issue. People select which country to name. There is no way to know how they choose.

  12. Anonymous7:12 PM

    What were the respective sample sizes for each population?

    Toadal: I'm pretty sure PISA scores aren't the same as IQ tests. They seem similar to the TIMSS scores addressed in the racial reality post.

    If you take those literally, do you believe the following countries under "below average" have "below average" IQ's?

    Do you believe Argentina and Chile have PISA IQ's of 79 and 81 respectively?

    More here in relation to these OECD-type tests:


    "IQ does indeed drop sharply in the South and Southeast of Europe, and this is pronounced within Italy and Spain."

    Do you base this on Lynn's work and the like? How sharply? How old are these studies? Are they phenotypic or genotypic measurements?

    "There were dozens of IQ studies in the first half of the 20th century where Italian-Americans scored very similar to blacks - and much lower than most European immigrants. This gap quickly closed between the 1930s and 1950s."

    I'm aware of Sowell's data too. You're a hereditarian- what do you think accounts for this closure?

    Do you still believe TIMSS, PISA and PIRLS scores are basically IQ scores?

  13. Anonymous7:14 PM

    From Toadal's first link: "Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru rank behind Uganda, Zambia, Botswana and Burundi in the quality of their math and science education."

    It also shows how Argentina and Chile, in blatant graphics, are barely better than most other latin american countries.

    Yeah, these sound like IQ tests to me!

  14. Anonymous7:24 PM

    Also, southeast europe has a substantial roma population, who probably have genotypic IQ's in the 80's.

  15. Anonymous5:42 PM

    As a North Italian I would suggest that a partial solution to the gap is social.

    The south of Italy had and have a trust gap from the time of the Spanish conquest of the Kingdom of Naples (or Two Sicily).
    This caused a general neglect of education, because to find a good job it is better to have links to the people in power. They also prefer (this is a defect of the Italian education system) humanities and disregard hard sciences. This, probably, reflect to the PISA scores.

    It don't matter how high it is their IQ, where they have no way to develop it.

    The southern part of Italy was (and is) profoundly damaged by the unification process. We had a ten year civil war in the South (War against Brigands) after the unification. This caused the destruction of the local economy and caused much people to leave. This happened in the same way in Veneto (where Venice is), where the economy was damaged to favor the Piedmont and Liguria (Lombardy hold itself as it was too big to be broken). The elites needed cheap labor in the North West so they caused high unemployment in other parts of Italy. A large number of people left their home to move to other places in Europe, America (South and North) and Australia (notable also in North Africa and South Africa and Australia).
    More North Italians left than South Italians (the population was bigger) and they moved earlier.

    I have posted some data in a comment to a Mangan's post about this IQ gap of Italians.

  16. Anonymous8:09 PM

    I would like to exchange links with your site
    Is this possible?

  17. I have written a long chapter on IQ scores of Italian immigrants in my book "Nuclear Weapons and the Blue-eyed People." There are two data points which indicate that the IQ of Italian Americans cetrainly is not dramatically lower than that of the American European polulation generally.

    If you are curious please visit my site WARBYIQ.

    R Peppe

  18. If you are interested in another approach to the IQ of Italian Americans you might visit my site WARBYIQ, and a paper that addresses the topic. I include a brief letter from Richard Herrnstein and other authorities on IQ generally.

    R Peppe


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