A child’s social class is more likely to determine how well they perform in school if they are white than if they come from an ethnic minority, researchers have discovered.
The gap between the proportion of working-class pupils and middle-class pupils who achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE is largest among white pupils, academics found.
They analysed official data showing thousands of teenagers’ grades between 2003 and 2007. Some 31% of white pupils on free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – achieve five A* to Cs, compared with 63% of white pupils not eligible for free school meals, they found.
This gap between social classes – of 32 percentage points – is far higher for white pupils than for other ethnic groups.
Poor immigrant groups in Britain are generally better motivated than poor indigenous people, who often just can’t keep up.
The following observations are linked and can be explained by assortative mating.
It seems poor white children do worse academically than poor ethnic minorities despite having a similar “poor” upbringing and environment. i.e. poorer outcome, same nurture.
The research highlighted in The Times on 17th June shows that the 24 largest research universities in the Russell Group admit a lower proportion of undergraduates from state schools and from poor families than ten years ago.
Children from wealthier families were nearly twice as likely to leave school with five good GCSEs, including maths and English, as those from poorer families — 63% against 36%.
After our ludicrously embedded class system in UK was largely dismantled after the last war we saw a massive surge in social mobility, which has now come to a screeching halt.
New research by the UK Government’s university funding body, based on 132,000 students, shows the effect of the quality of schooling has a much smaller effect on degree results then was previously believed. For the brightest pupils quality of schooling makes no difference at all.
Overwhelming evidence from identical twin studies, adoption studies, molecular genetics and Mendelian genetics give us a big clue, but the media and our (PPE graduate) politicians are too unsophisticated to acknowledge it, causing billions of tax pounds to be wasted on closing a perceived gap in equality.
First we must acknowledge that talent and motivation are largely heritable (i.e. we receive them through our genes). The massive data from identical twin / adoption studies have shown that the “environment” of pupils before World War 2 accounted for some of the differences in a person’s eventual social status by age 35. After these social based advantages were largely dismantled we saw a high degree of social mobility as talented and motivated individuals from all parts of society started to meet at Grammar Schools and Universities. The advantages of upbringing have now largely disappeared. Similar studies since World War 2 (in the developed world) shows upbringing makes little difference to our eventual social status, peer groups makes some difference but the largest driver is the genes for talent and motivation we inherit from our parents. Our upbringing, education and experiences are transient, so the influence of different “nurture” experience on our lives will be diminished over time. Our genes exert their influence consistently throughout our whole life.
Combine the fact that talent and motivation is largely inherited through our genes with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated women generally seek and marry talented, motivated men. They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society. As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society. Consequently talented, motivated children are not equally spread in our society. This is unfair, but I’m explaining the is not the ought. This biological process is called assortative mating.
This explains what we have seen in recent history. A strong genetic determinant of talent and motivation combined with a sudden dismantling of unfairness in society will lead to an initial surge in social mobility. However this social mobility will then fade as beneficial genes cluster into the affluent parts of society by the process of assortative mating.
The top private schools are highly selective and have rigorous academic entry requirements. This alone would explain why private schools have a disproportionate number of students at top universities. Assortative mating further explains why private schools and affluent families provide a disproportionate number of students to top universities on merit, and why they are providing slightly more now than 10 years ago. As assortative mating continues its influence this trend is likely to continue, unless our politicians want to start choosing with whom we mate?
Top universities may be becoming less socially representative, but they are representing where the talent has clustered because in a relatively socially mobile environment, talented genes will cluster in affluent parts of society.
For new immigrants the social factors which have limited their progress until now are relatively recent, so we expect the genes for talent and motivation to be more numerous in poorer parts of their society as they haven’t had time to cluster in the more affluent parts of society.
Also immigrants are self-selective. They are the minority of people in their own country who are prepared to take risks and who have the motivation, desire and initiative to seek economic and social opportunities elsewhere. These types of behaviours are more likely to make them successful in their destination country.
This explains why poorer students for ethnic minorities out-perform their white peers.
Of course there are also some social factors. Recent immigrants have the experience of seeing large increases in their standard of living for each unit of effort. In the developing world extra income can mean the difference between owning a refrigerator or not. Or owning a car or not. Or the novelty of having access to quality healthcare and education for the first time. For the indigenous population in the western world an incremental increase in income will just result in a better model of refrigerator or a slightly better car. Indigenous people in the west are used to having quality healthcare and education to the point of entitlement and complacency. The incremental benefit of extra income is smaller and therefore so can be the motivation to achieve it.
Of course these motivations amongst poor immigrants will dissipate over time. Their genes for talent and motivation will eventually migrate towards the affluent sectors of society and the novelty of the benefits of the western world will become entitlement to those less motivated individuals who are left behind with the indigenous poorer classes.
Our future is not entirely genetically determined and I have no doubt that good schools with quality teachers also make a difference. We should continue do everything we can to ensure that individuals from all parts of society have access to an excellent education and quality careers with equal opportunity to succeed on merit alone. But if we are to have a serious debate on helping the “disadvantaged” we need to look at all causes of “inequality” and move away from the discredited 1960’s assumptions that it is all explained by “nurture” and “class”, which is what most press articles on the subject imply. We should learn a little about evolutionary biology and genetics before making these wild assumptions.
It is in our interest as a society that we have the best people in the right jobs. We all benefit from a genuine meritocracy. There should be no discrimination based on colour, class or sex. But this includes “positive” discrimination too. We should not be giving people a leg up because of a perceived injustice unless we can prove beyond doubt that they really have been disadvantaged.
Governments should set their expectations correctly before spending billions more tax pounds trying to save all pupils from a “perceived” injustice. They should instead target Government spending on developing each child’s individual and innate talents and motivations.
Pleiotropy across academic subjects at the end of compulsory education An article in Nature on the genetic effects to human intelligence and GCSE results in the UK.