Monday, September 23, 2013

Poverty trumps genes

Being poor can impact your IQ (WSJ):

IQ was much less heritable for people who had grown up poor. This might seem paradoxical: After all, your DNA stays the same no matter how you are raised. The explanation is that IQ is influenced by education. Historically, absolute IQ scores have risen substantially as we've changed our environment so that more people go to school longer.

Richer children have similarly good educational opportunities, so genetic differences among them become more apparent. And since richer children have more educational choice, they (or their parents) can choose environments that accentuate and amplify their particular skills. A child who has genetic abilities that make her just slightly better at math may be more likely to take a math class, so she becomes even better at math.

But for poor children, haphazard differences in educational opportunity swamp genetic differences. Ending up in a terrible school or one a bit better can make a big difference. And poor children have fewer opportunities to tailor their education to their particular strengths.

How your genes shape your intelligence depends on whether you live in a world with no schooling at all, a world where you need good luck to get a good education or a world with rich educational possibilities. If we could change the world for the PKU babies, we can change it for the next generation of poor children, too.
Unfortunately the takeaway that some will get from this is that the solution is either spending more money on broken systems or holding the better kids down instead of bringing the poorer kids up.

I also have to wonder whether or not this study concludes that IQs have declined or are simply not meeting their potential because of poverty (given that we've gotten considerably wealthier overall at every socioeconomic level as a society over time). That said, there appears to be a significant gap here that I think markets and technology are only starting to solve.

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