Education, Genetic Explanations

Dr. Rachel Cohen is wrong about the modern causes of social inequality.

Acland Burghley, an inner-city comprehensive school in north London, invited the actor Damian Lewis (who has starred in TV hits such as Homeland and Wolf Hall) to switch on a laser display for their 50th Anniversary celebrations.

But a former pupil, Dr Rachel Cohen, a City University sociology lecturer, gets up a petition. Lewis, she says is a “wholly inappropriate choice” to take part in the school’s celebrations. Is this because he is a paedophile, a wife-beater or a drug addict?  No.  It is because he went to Eton, which she said “embodied the reproduction of privilege and inequality in the UK”.  According to Cohen, the actor didn’t represent “real Burghley values”.

Dr. Rachel Cohen has fallen into the trap of good logic based on a false premise.  It goes something like this:

Talented and motivated children are produced at random and are equally spread in society regardless of social class or parental income.  And the only way to nurture and develop that talent is to go to a school with high levels of financial resource – e.g. a private school.

This logic concludes that private schools produce a disproportionate number of talented individuals because more money is spent on honing that talent. And that this is unfair to equally talented children who do not receive the same opportunities.

The basic premise of this argument is demonstrably wrong.

In actual fact talent and motivation, in whatever form, is mostly genetically inherited from our parents. It is not allocated randomly.

Up to World War Two, there was little social mobility because of the way British society was structured.  If you were born into coal mining village before the 1930s there was a very high likelihood that this is where you would stay, regardless of talent.  Genetic studies (identical twin / adoption studies) up until World War Two confirmed that social class had an impact on our eventual social status.

After World War Two there was an enormous social mobility due to Grammar Schools, public school scholarship and much improved State schools.  As the social restrictions in our society were removed children with the genes that coded for talent and motivation broke free.  This happened across Britain with working class children shooting up the social scale with talent in science, engineering, law, sports and the arts.

These talented people did well.  They earned a good living, achieved a higher social status and joined the affluent middle classes.  They married other talented and motivated individuals and had children who had a higher than average chance of inheriting their parents’ genes for talent and motivation.  As these (now middle class) children had parents who were more affluent they also had a higher chance of being sent to a private school.

So effectively, genes for talent and motivation starting leaving the working class areas (such as coal mining villages) after World War Two and became middle class. 

We would predict that eventually we would see a more polarised genetic society as the genes for talent and motivation are slowly leached out of the working class areas.  Social mobility will slow down and humanities educated journalists and politicians will scratch their heads and wonder why, and then conclude that more must be done to help the talented working class children who used to exist but have now mysteriously disappeared.

Genetic studies since World War Two confirm that social class has relatively little impact on our eventual social status.

The irony is breath taking. Increased household income inequality and slowing levels of social mobility are the result of society becoming more equal. Talented children are still reaching their potential, it’s just that more of them are now middle class.

The class-war warriors, socialists and genetics ignorant sociologists (such as Dr Rachel Cohen) had a laudable dream of equality whereby poor working class children would be fairly and equally represented in society.  They made the assumption that talented and motivated children where thrown up by society at random.  i.e. that talented and motivated children are equally spread across class and relative affluence.  So once “equality” was achieved they imagined a world where there would be a fair representation of working class originated talent in the top echelons of society in perpetuity.

They were wrong. Society is now much more equal, but because talent and motivation are largely genetically encoded the talent has just migrated to the affluent parts of society by the process I have described.  This process is called assortative mating.

Genetics is probabilistic not deterministic.  However, so is the macro level consequence of its effect.  It is more likely that talent will migrate to the middle classes, in a society that is relatively socially mobile, by the process of assortative mating.  So 7% of all students who attend private schools make up 40% of Oxbridge intake, for example.  Not 50% or 100% but 40%.  So 60% still come from the State sector.  This disproportion is explained by assortative mating, not by discrimination.

But this is not enough for the class-war warriors, socialists and genetics-ignorant sociologists (such as Dr Rachel Cohen).  They would want the 7% of students who are privately educated to make up 7% of Oxbridge intake. i.e. not equality of opportunity but equality of outcome.

Our future is not entirely genetically determined and I have no doubt that good schools with quality teachers still 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 explained by “nurture” and “class”, which is what Rachel Cohen believes.  Our sociologists should learn a little about evolutionary biology and genetics before making these wild assumptions.

Further Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different   (three BBC radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence)

References:

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

 

Standard
Education, Genetic Explanations

Why is there an academic north-south divide in Britain?

_86954623_gcse_map_2015

Of the 20 top local authorities in terms of sending pupils to the prestigious Russell Group universities, 19 are in London and the south. Of the 20 worst-performing councils on the same league table, 18 are in the north.

Commentators claim this is an unacceptable divide and believe that this creates a “lottery” for places at top universities arbitrarily based on where you live.  Greg Clark, the cities and universities minister, who has led the government’s push for a “northern powerhouse”, is duly demanding that universities do more to attract students from northern schools.

The superficial knee-jerk conclusion here is that some sort of discrimination is causing this disparity.  This is based on an untested assumption:  that academically talented children and equally spread across the UK.  If so, they should suggest some sort of mechanism for this discrimination and provide some evidence, rather than just naively looking at the spread of successful candidates in Russell Group Universities.

To prove the discrimination hypothesis one must prove that there is a difference in the quality of the schools across the north-south divide and secondly that this difference materially affects the academic outcome of the brightest students.  But it seems it is not the schools causing this divide: 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 academic results then was previously believed.  For the brightest pupils quality of schooling makes no difference at all.

If it’s not the quality of schooling are we to believe that Russell Group Universities just prefer southern students?  i.e. actively discriminate against northern children? This is a ludicrous proposition.

Let’s assume for the moment that Russell Group Universities just choose the best qualified candidates and seek another explanation for the north-south divide.

First we must acknowledge that academic talent and motivation are largely heritable (i.e. we receive them through our genes).  This has been proven over and over again using identical twin and adoption studies.  Over the last 100 years at least 200 of them have given the same results and have been recently re-verified using massive studies at Kings College London. Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment.  This also revalidates the research (above) from the UK Government’s university funding body that schooling is less important than most people suppose.

Combine the fact that academic 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.

So here is a potential mechanism for the north-south divide that does not involve ludicrous conspiracy or discrimination theories.

Academically talented people from the north of England have been getting into prestigious universities on merit ever since Britain’s ludicrous class based society was largely dismantled after World War 1.

Our talented northerners got a good degree and then searched for the best paying jobs, which happened to be in the south of England.  Here they married other academically talented people also seeking high paying, prestigious jobs.  They both settled in the south and passed on their academically talented genes to their children.   This process is still going on.  Over a period of a number of generations there will be a clustering of academically talented genes in the affluent parts of society, which in the case of the UK happens to be the south of England.

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.

A perfectly reasonable explanation, backed by good scientific theory that does not need to involve ludicrous discrimination or conspiracy theories.

Further listening on the genetics of intelligence:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born DifferentThree BBC Radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

References:

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.

Academic north-south divide in English schools

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings  (examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chance of obtaining an upper second or first class degree)

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Genetic influence on GCSE results

Genetics and general cognitive ability : Article : Nature

Genetics – How Intelligence Changes with Age

Access : Childhood intelligence is heritable, highly polygenic and associated with FNBP1L 

Genes may play role in educational achievement

Access : Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic 

Genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between occupational status, educational attainment, and IQ

Standard
Genetic Explanations

We know what happened to Shoshana Roberts whilst walking in NYC – but nobody is asking why?

ffb428_dd5b720298524f22ae87a8f2d47fd1e9.jpg_srz_420_630_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz

Shoshana Roberts’ video was posted on You Tube

For ten hours on a recent day, Shoshana Roberts simply walked around New York City. She was wearing jeans and a crewneck T-shirt. She was silent as she walked and received over 100 catcalls. The actress involved has now received the rape threats that are the inevitable consequence of the contributory negligence of being female and doing something.

Journalists have picked up on this and written hundreds of indignant articles decrying the behaviour of her street antagonists. They have given much coverage about what happened in those 10 New York hours but little as to why. No wonder little has changed. I have no doubt that what happened to this young woman is true and also no doubts that we should address this issue for the benefit of women and civilisation in general.  But until we understand why this happened we have no chance of changing it.

Let’s recap. Despite decades of feminist lobbying; criminalisation of laddish behaviour; relentless, exaggerated and surreal political correctness from our media; personal-freedom sapping sexual equality legislation and extensive re-education of boys in our schools men still make unsolicited and unwanted comments about women’s bodies.

It is about now that intelligent commentators on these issues should start to question whether their basic premise as to why this is happening may in fact be wrong, or at least incomplete.

The basic premise is that our environment creates human nature. i.e. we are solely the product of our upbringing, parenting, education, environment and experiences. This is called the “Blank Slate Hypothesis”. This is a very seductive philosophy for feminists and socialists because it offers hope that we can create the socially and sexually equal nirvana we all crave just by changing our environment. It is also a convenient philosophy for feminists and socialists because it justifies the anti-libertarian State meddling into the lives of individuals via their social engineering experiments.

The Blank Slate Hypothesis is fundamentally flawed and what is more we have known it is flawed for decades. We now have a much better understanding of genetics and its role in moulding the behaviour of all animals, including the human variety. We don’t just behave in ways we have been conditioned to behave but also in ways we are genetically programmed to behave. Until we understand and accept this we cannot have a fighting chance of doing anything about it.

All living things are basically survival machines built by our genes to propel themselves into future generations.   We die, they don’t. Genes are insentient molecules that by a freak of nature became self-replicating. Any behaviour they confer on their host (i.e. us) that increases our chance of reproducing will inevitable mean that those molecules (and the behaviours they encode) will be more common in future generations. Evolution in a nutshell.

Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.

Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will often only produce offspring one-at-a-time. Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity.  Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age.  She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation.  It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce. Women therefore evolved to be highly nurturing towards their young.  She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.

Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females.   Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation.  1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child-bearing age  (i.e. copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age.  A third alternative is the best.  Do both.  Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce. This would include propositioning as many women as possible on the off chance a few will accept.  What have they to lose?

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival in future generations.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).

Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate.  Men will choose young, healthy, fertile (“attractive”) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows.  Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis.  Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure.  Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate. Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.  Women also need to recognise these traits in their competition (other women).  Women easily know if another woman is attractive.

So it makes sense for men’s genes to take risks in order to reproduce. This includes a good war that kills off much of the competition and assertive / aggressive behaviour towards unaccompanied women.

What is good for our genes also explains why human societies dislike female promiscuity.

Throughout human history men have needed to control women’s sexuality.  When women have a baby they are 100% sure that it is theirs.  For nearly all of the 200,000 years of their existence, human males have never really known if their child is truly their biological heir.  This is despite the reassuring knee jerk exclamations we hear from midwives, mothers and female relatives as soon as they clap eyes on the newborn infant: “oh, he / she has his father’s eyes!”

For good evolutionary reasons no man will want to spend time and resources inadvertently bringing up another man’s child.  A child that contains another man’s genes.  This is particularly important when title, wealth and inheritance are involved.  Consequently, to make sure that they knew who was the father, human civilizations created intricate ways to ensure female sexuality was monitored and controlled – doubly so when title, wealth and inheritance was involved.  Promiscuity in women was brutally discouraged and religion became the vehicle to achieve this.

The senior female members of these societies would also connive and reinforce this controlling behaviour.  No mother or grandmother wants to be duped by the women of their male heirs.

Women also have a vested interest in ensuring that sex is relatively rare in their society, as it increases their bargaining power with men.  Promiscuous women lower the price.

And this is how an unaccompanied, attractive young woman walking the streets of a city can be “criticised for being frigid and unresponsive by some street antagonists, declared a slut and a whore by others, all in the course of a few magical metres ” – to quote the words and experience of Hannah Bett’s writing in The Times.

You see this is not about us (humans) it is all about the survival of our genes – a process that has been slowly exerting its influence for the last 3,500,000,000 years. 50 years of feminism will not undo this.

Standard
Genetic Explanations

Genetics, gender and race – how will social policy cope with recent scientific discoveries?

In his recent book  A Troublesome Inheritance Nicholas Wade makes some excellent points about mankind’s recent evolution, which shows there are tangible genetic differences between the races.   Mr. Wade states that Human evolution did not cease thousands of years ago; it has been “recent, copious and regional”.

In the past 30,000 years, after humankind migrated into different races, many genes have changed through natural selection: lactose tolerance developed in response to dairy farming in Europe and parts of Africa; physiological adaptations for high altitude emerged in Tibetans; malaria resistance spread throughout Africa and the Mediterranean; a gene for sweat glands, ear wax and hair changed in China.

One estimate is that 722 regions containing 2,465 genes (about 14% of the human genome) has been affected by gene mutations that brings an advantage and replaces other versions of genes in one race or another. In many places, the affected genes are active mostly in the brain. As Wade puts it: “These findings establish the obvious truth that brain genes do not lie in some special category exempt from natural selection.”

The more we look, the more genetic variation we will find between races, as well as between individuals.  We had therefore better get used to the idea and consider how human society and political policy will deal with these discoveries.

Before discussing the explosive and vitriolic subject of genetics, sex and race we should first emphasise the strong arguments against sexual or racial discrimination.  Genetic variation just gives tendencies in ability and behaviour at a population level.   We cannot predict the behaviour and ability of individuals. There is so much overlap between different sexes and races regarding their different abilities (strengths and weaknesses) that any discrimination, against any individual, on any terms, is not in society’s best interest.  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.  Discrimination is also just clearly morally wrong.

So 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.

A knee-jerk reaction of blaming discrimination has adverse effects as well as good ones   For example we know of a collection of genes that cause men to have very high levels of testosterone during adolescence.  In certain situations this leads to very aggressive, violent, criminal behaviour.  The fact that this is more common in young black men is enough to explain the disproportionate number of them in prisons around the developed world.  This is politically explosive in the wrong hands, but nobody minds the fact that a very high proportion of top sprinters can show they have genetic ancestors from a particular part of West Africa.  The genetic explanation of athleticism is generally well accepted, but our political correctness has caused us to ignore this high–testosterone phenomenon, which prevents medicine or science from finding a temporary solution until the adolescent has grown up and calmed down.  Some timely intervention could help the youth through a difficult time and stop them committing crimes that would ultimately ruin their life and those of their victims.

And yes we’ve known for decades there are differences in mental capacity between the races and big differences in mental capacity variance between the sexes (although the average intelligence of both sexes is more-or-less the same).  This explains many puzzling educational and achievement phenomena that we currently blame on discrimination.  We are currently spending billions of tax pounds trying to close a perceived gap in societal equality without even considering it may be genetic.  Economists who study patterns of discrimination have long argued (generally to no avail) that there is a crucial conceptual distinction between difference and discrimination.   A departure from a proportionate sex or race representation in academic qualifications or professions does not, by itself, imply that we are seeing discrimination.  Not unless the interests and aptitudes of all the groups are identical.

How much culture and environment moulds human behaviour and how much inherent human nature moulds cultures is open to debate.  But I am glad we are now moving away from the flawed 1960s social sciences research, which assumes the balance is entirely on the culture affecting human nature side i.e. the now discredited “Blank Slate” hypothesis.  To understand that genes are not insignificant could explain why the Middle East, for example, is so explosive with an uncompromising, tribal, revenge culture at its core.

We know with male / female intelligence that it is the extremes, the rare outliers, that can make a real difference to our society, not the mediocre average.  If a society occasionally produces some rare genetic prodigy then that society will do better than one that doesn’t. A few gifted individuals can and do change society so long as that society communicates widely and have an education system to ensure their discoveries are quickly shared.  And all human societies like to communicate; it is part of human nature.  It is difficult to argue that the Jews particularly have not produced a disproportionate number of intellectual prodigies.  But the term “prodigy” also includes other skills such as those possessed by Mozart, Shakespeare and Pele.

I understand the fear that society has regarding this type of genetic research.  The dark shadow of Nazi eugenics still hangs over this subject and demonstrates what happens when this science is mis-understood and mis-used for political purposes.  It has also set back our ability to discuss these issues by decades.

However we must not forget that eugenics was originally researched in order to improve the human condition.  Many famous people, before the Nazis, were keen on the concept, including: George Bernard Shaw; Winston Churchill and the great “feminist” Marie Stopes.  Marie Stopes, amongst other great achievements, is a seen as a pioneer of birth control during the early 1900s.  Her interest in contraception and family planning was to prevent too many poor people reproducing and spreading “poor” quality genes.

William Beveridge was best known for his 1942 report Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report) which served as the basis for the post-World War II welfare states.   He was also a member of the Eugenics Society, which promoted the study of methods to ‘improve’ the human race by controlling reproduction. His idea of the much-loved welfare state is an example of the positive benefits of this type of belief.

Of course we must keep our feet on the ground and merely understand that genes are not irrelevant in all this.  Genes are not everything.  Mr. Wade tries to explain too much of human history by gene changes. The industrial revolution started in Europe and not China, he suggests, partly because Europe had been preconditioned by genetic evolution for the sort of economic openness that sparked accelerating innovation.  To explain the industrial revolution genetically is going too far.  My favourite explanation is that Henry VIII quashed the authority of the Catholic Church in order to get into Anne Boleyn’s knickers.  This freed England from the conservative idealogical constraints of the Catholic religion, which enabled a surge in technological and social progress.  This freedom and progress ultimately led to the Industrial Revolution and British Empire.  Nothing to do with any genes that all other men don’t possess.

We must make sure that we understand the science of genetics and how it can explain the way society is.  However we must never forget that this science can never justify human behaviour nor allow discrimination against individuals at any level nor under any circumstances. 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.

How we ought to behave should only be decided by: rational, evidence-based debate; democracy and the rule of law.  Genetics will allow us to manage our expectations regarding real equality and hopefully to spend our meagre tax pounds where they will have the optimum impact.

Further Reading:

Why do male students get more first class degrees at Oxford University than female students?

Why are immigrant groups in Britain generally better motivated than indigenous people?

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different

Standard
Genetic Explanations

How much does an abusive upbringing effect our future mental health?

As ministers consider introducing a ‘Cinderella law’ to outlaw emotional cruelty to children, Collette Elliott publishes her book Unforgivable.  In this autobiography she blames the experiences of her horrific upbringing at the hands of her violent, heartless mother as the cause of her own mental health problems in later life.

We must be careful when making “cause and effect” assumptions regarding emotional abuse.

It is easy to link a child who was emotionally abused by a parent or close relative with consequent emotional problems and depression in adulthood.  It seems very intuitive to make the cause-and-effect link.

However, as is often the case in science, it will probably be more complicated than this.  We must first show that the link is not genetic.  A parent that emotionally abuses their children is likely to have many emotional problems themselves – including schizophrenia and depression.  It is just as likely that the child inherited the genes for emotional problems, including schizophrenia and depression.  As is so often proven with identical twin / adoption studies, our environment plays a smaller role in creating who and what we are than we assume.   For example about 50% of the cause of severe depression is known to be genetically inherited, regardless of environment.  Genes aren’t everything but they are at least as important as environment.

A Cinderella law preventing emotional abuse of children is a good idea, but we must manage our expectations as to how much this will reduce mental health problems of children later in life.

References:

Major Depression and Genetics

Genetic link for depression found

Shared genes link depression, schizophrenia, and three other mental illnesses

Twins Early Development Study 

Standard
Education

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

For at least 30 years genetic research has shown us that a significant determiner of who and what we are is genetically pre-determined.

This was recently confirmed by yet another study from Kings College in London:

“The degree to which students’ GCSE exam scores differ owes more to their genes than to their teachers, schools or family”

This research confirms that up to 60% of the differences in our children’s educational achievement is explained by inherited genes.  i.e. the DNA sequences we get from our parents at conception.  The rest is composed of a mixture of “nurture” type influences, such as parenting, schooling and peer group as well as a number of “random” life events, which are neither nature nor nurture.  The existing genetic research seems to indicate that peer groups is the biggest of these nurture influences and parenting made surprisingly little difference by the time we reach the age of 35.

I was very excited to read about new research that tries to understand the relative importance of schooling influences in the 40% which is nurture. For example, how much difference does a private school make compared to a State School?  How much difference does a good school make compared to a poor school?

This new research by the UK Government’s university funding body is based on the entire UK cohort who started university in 2007-08 (130,000 students) and graduated three years later. This huge study eliminates potential sampling biases and offers a robust and comprehensive examination of questions that smaller or institution-specific studies are unable to answer.  The study looked at how likely these students were to achieve firsts or 2:1s, depending on their background, and controlling for different academic grades.

The starting assumption to this study is that a student in a poor school getting the same grades as a student in a good school must be more intelligent, i.e. their superior intelligence had to compensate for their poorer academic environment.  So when they go to university the student from a poor school should do better when the are exposed to an identical academic environment.  If this was proven the study’s authors would have argued for lower offer grades by good universities to pupils from poor schools.

What did this research tell us?

1. Degree outcomes are not affected by the average performance of the school that a student attended. Specifically, a student from a low-performing school is not more likely to gain a higher degree classification than a student with the same prior educational attainment from a high-performing school. For example, regardless of ‘school type’, a student gaining AAB at A’ Level from a school in the highest 20 per cent of schools in the country has the same likelihood of gaining a first or upper second as a student gaining AAB from a school in the lowest 20 per cent of schools in the country. In both cases, the proportion gaining a first or upper second is 79 per cent. See key points 20 and 21 in the above reference.

2. Among students achieving A* and A grades at A’ Level, there was also  no statistical difference in degree attainment according to school type.

These are the grades required by elite Russell Group University applicants and Oxbridge candidates.  These data seem to back up the genetic theories that if a student is academically gifted the type of school he or she attends makes little difference to their academic achievement.  Your genes win out – at least in in an advanced, relatively socially mobile country with a good, national, free State education system.  It also seems to indicate that Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities should not be discriminating according to school type.  If they do they will dilute their high academic standards.

3. At the maximum differential, students educated at state school, achieving A-level grades of around BBC were 7% to 8% more likely to achieve a good degree than their private school peers with the same grades.

This seems to indicate that at best the standard of schooling can improve the performance of more “average” ability A’ level candidates by up to 8%.  This is much lower than I expected, considering the considerable perceived difference between good quality and poor quality schools.  However this seems to confirm the importance of other nurture influences on education, such as peer group.

4. A much smaller study by Exeter University found that someone achieving AAB at A’ Level from a low-performing school or college had the same potential to succeed as someone achieving AAA at a high-performing school.

Assuming that the differential between pupils from good or even average state schools compared to “a high performing school” is even less, it seems that the maximum benefit from a very expensive private education is a single grade increase in only one of three A’ levels.  In most cases it will be less than that.  Again it proves the majority of the educational ability is inherent to the child and independent of schooling.

Conclusions in a relatively socially mobile, developed country such as the UK:

1. The type of schooling makes no difference at all for the brightest students.

2. Russell Group and Oxbridge universities should not discriminate according to school type.

3. Schooling makes a small difference (8%) for A’ level candidates of more average ability.

4. For those Universities making offers around BBB and CCC grades there is a good case for offering pupils from poor performing schools slightly lower grades (e.g. BCC or even CCC instead of BBC).

5. Parents should look at these statistics before spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a private education.  If their intention is to get significantly better A’ level results for their children they will be disappointed.  This is poor value for money.

These research results seem to back up existing research that concluded that schooling has a limited influence on educational achievement.  At best it makes up 8% of the 40% which is open to environmental influence.  For the brightest students it makes no statistical difference.  Peer group, parenting and random life events (i.e. events which are not nature or nurture) make up the rest of the 40%.

These results will be exaggerated by social engineers and class-war socialists in order to further their case against elitism and further their positive discrimination policies.

It should be noted however that these statistics are only made possible because of the excellent job done by British teachers. They contribute to making the UK a relatively equal society.   These studies show that British society is now “equal enough” to allow talent and motivation to be rewarded regardless of the type of schooling.  In other countries, where children are more poorly educated, the type of school a child attends will make a bigger difference to their academic achievement.

Even early school provision does not make the impact many expect.  Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education team has just published research showing that in a worrying number of rich-world countries more than 15% of young people are “unqualified”. Those with a problem include France, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark—all high scorers for early-years provision. A good start is not enough on its own.

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.

Further listening on the genetics of intelligence:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born DifferentThree BBC Radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

References:

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.

Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings  (examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chance of obtaining an upper second or first class degree)

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

Why is there an academic north-south divide in Britain?

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Genetic influence on GCSE results

Genetics and general cognitive ability : Article : Nature

Genetics – How Intelligence Changes with Age

Access : Childhood intelligence is heritable, highly polygenic and associated with FNBP1L 

Genes may play role in educational achievement

Access : Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic 

Genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between occupational status, educational attainment, and IQ

Standard
Genetic Explanations, Politics and Economics

Social Mobility in the UK has Declined because Society is more Equal.

The irony is breath taking.  Increased household income inequality and slowing levels of social mobility are the result of society becoming more equal.

Household income inequality is a hot topic in left-leaning political circles because it has relentlessly increased in recent decades, despite the last Labour Government spending billions of tax pounds trying to reduce it.

There is one obvious explanation being studiously avoided: Income inequality has increased in part because University-educated men and women are more likely to marry each other, rather than marrying partners with divergent education. Economists and biologists call the tendency of people with similar characteristics to marry “assortative mating.”

As a consequence, household income inequality has increased because education is strongly correlated with income—the better your education the more money you will typically earn.

The increased educational opportunities for women since World War 2 has led to many more of them to earning high salaries.  However there is a strong tendency for these women to marry men with similar education levels and earning potential, polarising them into a small number of high dual-income households.

Also the increased numbers of 18-year olds attending higher education and more equality in the workplace has allowed talented and motivated men and women from all parts of society to get on the professional job ladder.

Intuitively we should believe that more equality for men and women would increase social mobility, as men and women from all backgrounds have opportunities for higher education, to succeed in their careers and become more economically successful.

As predicted, social mobility surged after the 1940s but this has now mysteriously come to a screeching halt, despite society being more equal then ever.  Why?

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 and economic 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 and economic 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.

This explains why private schools and affluent families provide a disproportionate number of students to top universities, 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.

This explains why poorer students for ethnic minorities out-perform their white peers.

Remember is not ought.

Our future is not entirely genetically determined and I have no doubt that good schools with quality teachers 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 the reason we see a slowing of social mobility and a polarisation of high income individuals into high dual-income households is because society is more equal, particularly for women.   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 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.

References:

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different (three BBC radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence)

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

Standard