Myth: Some ethnic groups have genetically inferior IQ's.

Fact: Poverty creates large IQ differences even between groups of the same ethnicity.


There are too many examples of discriminated minorities even within ethnic groups that score worse on IQ tests to believe the myth that the differences are genetic.


On average, African-Americans score 7 to 15 points lower than European-Americans on IQ tests. Many conservatives believe this is because blacks are genetically inferior to whites. But liberals believe that the IQ gap is the result of nearly three centuries of slavery and yet another 130 years of segregation and institutionalized racism. Even the Civil Rights Act and affirmative action have not eliminated discrimination against blacks -- they've merely reduced it somewhat. The result of this discrimination is that a disproportionate percentage of blacks work at lower-paying jobs, live in poverty and squalor, lack health care and child care, and do not receive the quality of education and personal development available to richer members of society. All these deprivations work to suppress IQ and educational achievement in children during their critical developmental years.

Which viewpoint is correct? The answer becomes obvious when you compare the lower IQ results of other discriminated minorities around the world, many of whom are of the same genetic stock.

Perhaps the most dramatic example is the Northern Irish. Even though they come from the same ethnic group, Catholics (the discriminated minority) score 15 points lower on IQ tests than Protestants.

In the U.S., both Korean and Japanese students score above average in IQ tests; many scholars agree that, genetically, they are about as close as two ethnic groups can get. But the Korean minority living in Japan scores much lower on IQ tests than the Japanese. Why? The Japanese are extremely racist towards Koreans; they view them as stupid and violent, and employ them only in the dirtiest and lowest-paying jobs. Tensions are so great between the two groups that violence often erupts in the form of riots.

In the U.S., Polish Jews arriving before 1910 were also perceived as stupid (for no other reason than they were accustomed to a different culture and spoke another language). So many "Pollock" jokes arose that Americans still tell them to this day, even if no one remembers why. The Polish Jews suffered heavy job discrimination and suspicion of criminality; not surprisingly, their children suffered low grades and IQ test scores. Today, of course, many Americans hold the opposite prejudice; Jews are viewed as the most brilliant of ethnic groups.

Russian-born Jews who became American soldiers in World War I also scored low on IQ tests. So low, in fact, that Carl Brigham, the creator of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, declared that the results "disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent."

There are countless examples around the world where the dominant ethnic group scores higher on IQ tests than the discriminated minority, even when the two groups are of the same ethnic stock. Here is a partial list:

Group Differences Around the World (1)
                 High IQ/grades,    Low IQ/grades,
Country          Dominant class     Discriminated class
Australia          Whites             Aborigines
Belgium            French             Flemish
Czechoslovakia     Slovaks            Gypsies
Great Britain      English            Irish, Scottish
India              Nontribals         Tribal people
                   High caste         Low caste
Israel             Jews               Arabs
                   Western Jews       Eastern Jews
                   Brahmin            Harijan
Japan              Non-Burakumin      Burakumin
                   Japanese origin    Korean origin
New Zealand        Whites             Maoris
Northern Ireland   Protestants        Catholics
South Africa       English            Afrikaaners (Dutch)
United States      Whites             Blacks
                   Whites             Latinos
                   Whites             American Indians

Many conservatives argue that people who are smarter tend to go on to college more, and because whites are more intelligent than blacks, there are more whites in college. But regardless of the reason why this is so, it cannot be because of a genetic edge in intelligence. Consider the following information from the U.S. Census on the breakdown of white students who have graduated with a B.A. from college:

Proportions of Americans who have completed college by self-identified ancestries (2)

French-Canadian   16.7 percent
Dutch             18.5
Italian           21.0
Irish             21.2
German            22.0
Finnish           24.2
Norwegian         26.0
Danish            27.4
Swedish           27.4
Scotch-Irish      28.2
English           28.4
Welsh             31.8
Scottish          33.6
Russian           49.0

All the above are at least third-generation Americans, which would give them sufficient time to join the college caste. Is it really reasonable to blame the above differences on genetics? Notice that the Scottish have nearly twice the college attendance as the Dutch, even though their ancestors lived right across the Channel…

Most geneticists agree that there is far more genetic variation within groups than between groups. According to one commonly cited study, 85% of all human genetic variation is intra-population, 7% intra-race and only 8% inter-racial. (3)

Return to Overview


1. Sources for each country are as follows:
Australia: L.Z. Klich, "Aboriginal Cognition and Psychological Science," pp. 427-52 in S.H. Irvine and J.W. Berry (eds.) Human Abilities in Cultural Context (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Lesley Clark and Graeme Halford, "Does Cognitive Style Account for Cultural Differences?" Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 14 (September, 1983), pp. 279-96.
Belgium: John Raven, "The Raven Progressive Matrices: A Review of National Norming Studies and Ethnic and Socioeconomic Variation in the United States," Journal of Educational Measurement 26 (Spring, 1989), pp. 1-16, esp. fig. 2.
Czechoslovakia: Karol Adamovic, "Intellectual Development and Level of Knowledge in Gypsy Pupils in Relation to the Type of Education," Psychologia a Patopsychologia Dietata 14, 1979, 2:169-76 (translated abstract).
Great Britain: Research by Richard Lynn discussed in Ciaran Benson, "Ireland's 'Low' IQ," pp. 222-23 in Russell Jacoby and Naomi Glauberman (eds.), The Bell Curve Debate (New York: Times Books, 1995).
India: Caste differences - J.P. Das and Amulya Kanti Satpathy Khurana, "Caste and Cognitive Processes," pp. 487-508 in S.H. Irvine and J.W. Berry (eds.), Human Abilities in Cultural Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Sohani Das, "Level-I Abilities of Socially Disadvantaged Children: Effects of Home Environment, Caste and Age," Social Science International 10, (1994), 1-2:69-74; Sohani Das and Brahmananda Padhee, "Level II Abilities of Socially Disadvantaged Children: Effects of Home Environment, Caste and Age," Journal of Indian Psychology 11, (1993) 1-2:38-43 (abstract); Tribal differences - Anita Gupta and Qamar Jahan, "Differences in Cognitive Capacity among Tribal and Non-Tribal High School Students of Himachal Pradesh," Manas 36, (1994), 1-2:17-25 (abstract);.
Israel: Arabs - Kugelmass et al., "Patterns of Intellectual Ability"; news item that, in 1992, 26% of Jewish high school students passed matriculation exam versus 15% of Arab students - Jerusalem Reports, January 12, 1995; cf. Lieblich et al., "Patterns of Intellectual Ability." Eastern Jews - Gross, Cultural Concomitants of Preschoolers' Preparation for Learning"; Yehezekal Dar and Nura Resh, "Socioeconomic and Ethnic Gaps in Academic Achievement in Israeli Junior High Schools," pp. 332-27 in Nico Bleichrodt and Peter Drenth (eds.), Contemporary Issues in Cross-Cultural Psychology (Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1991); Brahmins - Radhe Shyam, "Variations in Concentration of 'g' Level Abilities among Different Groups," Journal of Personality & Clinical Studies 2 (September, 1986), pp. 123-26 (abstract)
Japan: Burakumin - A. Shimahara, "Social Mobility and Education: Burakumin in Japan," pp. 327-356 in Margaret A. Gibson and John U. Ogbu (eds.), Minority Status and Schooling: A Comparative Study of Immigrants and Involuntary Minorities (New York: Garland, 1991); Koreans - Yongsook Lee, "Koreans in Japan and the United States," pp. 139-65 in Margaret Gibson, op cit.; George DeVos and William Wetherall, Japans Minorities (London: Minorities Rights Group, 1983).
New Zealand: John Ogbu, Minority Education and Caste:The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective (New York: Academic Press, 1978); Ross St. George, "Cognitive Ability Assessment in New Zealand: Some Remarks," New Guinea Psychologist 3 (August 1971), pp. 42-46.
Northern Ireland: Richard Lynn et al., "Home Background, Intelligence, Personality and Education as Predictors of Unemployment in Young People," Personality and Individual Differences (1984), 5:549-57.
South Africa: J.M. Verster and R.J. Prinsloo, "The Diminishing Test Performance Gap Between English Speakers and Afrikaans Speakers in South Africa," pp. 534-60 in S.H. Irvine op cit.
United States: Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, (New York: The Free Press, 1994). Also, for Native Americans - Avery Church, "Academic Achievement, IQ, Level of Occupational Plans, and Ethnic Stereotypes for Anglos and Navahos in a Multi-ethnic High School," Southern Journal of Educational Research (Summer, 1976), pp. 184-201.

2. U.S. Census data reported by Andrew Hacker, "Caste, Crime and Precocity," p. 105 in Steven Fraser (ed.), The Bell Curve Wars (New York: HarperCollins, 1995).

3. R.C. Lewontin, Steven Rose and Leon J. Kamin, Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature (Random House, 1984).