Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Brief comments on IQ vs. SES and The Bell Curve

with 5 comments

Despite repeated attempts, I cannot get a comment to appear on a blog entry on “poverty” and Swedish schoolse—not even in the form of an “awaiting moderation” message. (The Swedish left insists on abusing the word poverty in the sense of a relative measure for, I assume, rhetorical reasons. We then have absurd claims like 60 % of the children in a particular area of Sweden living in poverty…)

Since some of the flawed reasoning I address in my comment is relatively frequent, I turn it into a slighly expanded blog post instead:

  1. There is an obvious correlation between IQ and SES. See e.g. The Bell Curvew or think about for two seconds: A higher IQ leads (on average and within a certain scope) to both greater success in the workplace and higher academic qualifications. Both increase SES.

  2. The Bell-Curve is not a work by racists quacks, but has been the mark of much undeserved and ideologically motivated criticism (in some cases, slander). While it is not perfect, it is well-written, well-researched, and the flaws that it has do not affect its main message.

  3. This message is not that coloured people are inferior, but that IQ affects a great number of areas of life, including SES, age of first marriage, and the risk of serving jail time.

  4. The IQ differences between some groups are very well researched and entirely irrefutable. The questions under discussions are relating to cause and changeability. That there is a genetic mechanism causing (at least) a sizable part of the correlation between parents and children is established.

  5. It is important to be careful when interpreting correlation as causation. The owner of the linked-to blog, e.g., appears to have SES and its influence on outcomes as almost the soul topic of her blog. In the post in question, she calculates correlations between SES and success in school, yet fails to correct for relevant other factors. At a minimum, the effects of IQ inheritance and immigration need to be considered.

The original comment:

Du bevisar med din kommentar att du bara känner till boken genom dess kritiker, som i regel ger en missvisande bild—ofta en extrem förvrängning. Framförallt, tvärtom, en korrelation mellan ras och IQ (vilken är helt oomstridligt inom seriös forskning—man diskuterar endast vad den beror på) är inte bokens budskap. Budskapet är att IQ har en effekt på ett antal områden, tex SES, och att det är viktigt att ha tänka på detta när det gäller “public policy”.

(Jag har förövrigt inte bara läst den vid flera tillfällen, utan även läst ett antal kritiska och försvarande texter.)

Även utan denna bok kan man knappast tvivla på ett samband: Högre IQ ger bättre möjligheter till utbildning och framgång, vilket leder till högre SES.

Ordet “missvisande” innehåller inte en komponent av lögn. I det här fallet är dina diagram missvisande för att du inte berenar faktorer som är relevant i bloggens kontext. Ett av dina budskap är att låg SES leder till sämre möjligheter i skolan; en av dina slutsatser att vi måste utjämna SES för att ge alla samma chanser. I detta sammanhang måste man identifiera kausaliteten, inte korrelationen. Korrelationen är nämligen ofta betydligt starkare än kausaliteten.


Written by michaeleriksson

June 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I take it you’re referring to Save the Childrens yearly report on childhood poverty in Sweden. The definition of poverty in this report is absolute, not relative. There are areas in Sweden where more than 60 percent of the children is raised in poverty even in absolute terms (socialbidragsnivå). Please see the report for further details.



    June 10, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    • No, I was speaking more generally about the rhetoric—the exact numbers given were only one example.

      I had a look the report, and it does not bear up your claim. On the contrary, poverty is very widely defined as the union of those receiving“socialbidrag” and those who are “relatively poor”. Those poor-but-not-relatively-poor only make up a little more than one third of the poor. Assuming that this extrapolates to the individual areas, the true value would then be 20–30 %—not 60 %. Further, even going by “socialbidrag” can contaminate the classification of who is poor, because the support is generous by the standards of many other countries and times.

      As the report it self says:

      I ett välfärdssamhälle som Sverige innebär barnfattigdom mycket sällan att barn behöver svälta eller
      frysa av ekonomiska skäl. Det handlar snarare om att inte ha samma möjligheter som de flesta barn
      har i Sverige i dag, till exempel att delta i avgiftsbelagda fritidsaktiviteter som musikskola eller idrotts-
      klubb, ha tillgång till dator hemma, kunna få nya glasögon, åka bort på sommarlovet eller följa med på
      skolresan. Fattigdom är med detta synsätt ett relativt begrepp, som innebär att människor med knappa
      ekonomiska resurser är fattiga i jämförelse med den stora majoriteten i samhället. Att växa upp under
      ekonomiskt knappa omständigheter kan leda till ett socialt och ekonomiskt utanförskap.

      (Roughly: Poverty is relative, starvation is rare, but band camp may have to be sacrificed and social disadvantages may arise.)

      Now: I do not deny that this may be a problem, nor that it should be addressed, if so. I do deny that this is poverty—even the majority of Sweden’s “poor” live a materially sound life that their grandparents would have envied them. I take particular objection as the reason for this use of the word is political and rhetorical, an attempt to play at the associations of true poverty.

      I note for the record that I was myself a “poor” child, including times when my divorced mother went on unemployment and I and my sister wore home-made or inherited clothes.

      (Please leave a valid email address for any future comment.)


      June 10, 2011 at 10:22 pm

      • Sorry, you’re wrong. See p. 28 for the full definition: http://www.rb.se/SiteCollectionDocuments/Rapporter/Svenska%20rapporter/Barnfattigdom_2011.pdf

        Absolute, not relative.

        “Låg inkomststandard är ett mått som har utvecklats av SCB och använts i statistikmyndighetens barn-
        och familjestatistik. Därifrån har även Rädda Barnen hämtat uppgifterna om inkomststandard till

        Inkomststandarden beräknas genom att dividera familjens disponibla inkomst med en norm för lev-
        nadsomkostnader, som är justerad efter familjens sammansättning. Normen består av baskonsumtion
        av t ex mat och kläder, boendeutgifter samt eventuella fackföreningsavgifter och barnomsorgskostnader.
        Vid inkomststandard 1,0 har familjen precis tillräckliga inkomster för att klara de mest nödvändiga
        utgifterna. Värden under 1,0 räknas som låg inkomststandard, medan värden på 2,0 eller högre räknas
        som hög inkomststandard.”


        June 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm

      • My bad, I jumped to conclusions based on the name “inkomststandard” (“income standard”). However, this does not affect the main line of criticism, which is not directed at the report. Further, I strongly suspect that even this definition misses what poverty is, seeing that the limits are calculated with a modern standard of living in mind—not that of a hundred years ago. I have not been able to find the actual definition, but I note that the existential minimum in Sweden in 2008 was set at SEK 3550 per month (~ EUR 390) in addition to “rent, electricity, etc.” (“3550 per månad plus hyra, el osv”, http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existensminimum) for a single person house-hold—-not what I would call poverty. (And, yes, I have lived for less myself.)

        (Really do provide a valid email address or no further comments of yours will be published. I have no objections to anonymous email providers, if that is your concern.)


        June 10, 2011 at 11:37 pm

  2. […] instance, on a recently discussed blog entrye (where I still cannot comment) someone today made the following two claims as a means to dismiss The Bell […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s