Genetic Explanations

Why do women cry at the film “Me Before You”?


The central London screening for the new high-profile weepie Me Before You was mostly an all-women affair. There were free tights, hankies and low-calorie crisps on every seat. There were four men in the auditorium. The film was introduced by director Thea Sharrock, writer Jojo Moyes and star Emilia Clarke (from Game of Thrones).  The film is based on the book of the same title that spent weeks at the top of the best seller lists.

Me Before You told the story of an alluring, happy, working-class girl (Emilia Clarke) who is hired to care for a despondent, moody, upper-class, phenomenally rich, handsome, quadriplegic man (Sam Claflin). He is suicidal because he hates being paralysed.  Her job is to show him that being disabled is manageable and despite his severe disability his life can still be enjoyed.

Apparently this film had the entire female audience in tears, much to the confusion of the few men present, who thought the film was terrible.  One later asked what is wrong with these women that they cry at such a contrived and awful film?

There is nothing “wrong” with women, they are just different to men.  To say this however is deemed politically incorrect.

It was in the communist Soviet Union that the phrase “politically correct” was born. i.e. something could be demonstrably untrue or scientifically incorrect but politically correct because it supported their particular political philosophy.

It may shock us to our core but women and men are fundamentally different, on average. They are wired differently.

We may also ask ourselves why Mills and Boon novels are so popular.  J.K. Rowling sold 400 million Harry Potter books in an 11-year career.  Mills & Boon sell 200 million formulaic female romantic fiction novels worldwide every year.  And this is only one publisher of this popular genre.

50 shades of Grey is a book written by a woman and the film is directed by a woman.  The audience for both was predominantly women.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice created the formula for most female fantasies written since 1813:  Young, inexperienced girl meets older, aloof, condescending but rich and very powerful man, who she initially dislikes but with whom she feels a strong physical attraction.   Her latent physical desire for him causes her body to “betray” her and she ends up dancing with him against her better judgment and conscious will (the modern version has her having passionate sex with him against her conscious will).  He does male things like hunting, fencing and shooting.  She is pretty, intelligent and gentle.  She manages to tame this rogue as her own through her personality, intelligence and common sense.  Eventually he is tortured by his love for her and has eyes for nobody else, despite having a whole world of women to choose from.  He proposes to her and she admits she loved him from the start but didn’t know it.

Neither books nor films are substitutes for real relationships and physical contact, but perhaps the popularity of this genre gives us a peek  into many women’s subconscious fantasies.  It seems this is what many women want.

A few evolution based scientific facts to back up this clever and much used formula:

  • Women are generally more attracted to men of a higher social status than themselves.
  • Women are generally more attracted to men of equal or higher intelligence than themselves.
  • Women are generally more attracted to men who are attractive to many other women (think One Direction and the rich and powerful)

This formula doesn’t work if the man is a lowly manual labourer or has learning difficulties.  The disabled addition in this particular film plays to womens’ naturally more nurturing hardwired behaviour.

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 had different evolutionary pressures so evolved to behave differently, on average.

Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.

This film is basically a formula designed by psychologists and evolutionary biologists to appeal to women.  Much the same concept as Teletubbies, which was designed by child psychologists to appeal to toddlers.  The purposes of both ventures was to make money.

Feminism is concerned with how the world ought to be.  Science is concerned with how the world is.  Unfortunately 100 years of feminism does not undo 3,500,000,000 years of evolution.

Genetic Explanations

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness


A recent UK Department for Education study into the mental wellbeing of 30,000 teenagers found that girls were more than twice as likely as boys to suffer symptoms of mental ill health.  The proportion of girls with anxiety or depression has risen by 10 per cent in a decade.

The study was one of the largest of its kind and involved in-depth interviews with thousands of teenagers aged 14 or 15. It was based on a similar study carried out in 2005, allowing researchers to compare trends over time.

37% of teenage girls had three or more symptoms of psychological distress, such as feeling unhappy, worthless, and unable to concentrate, compared with 15 per cent of boys. Instances of depression and anxiety in boys had fallen since 2005, but risen by about 10 per cent in girls.

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Researchers said that some of the increase could be attributed to “pushy parents” and “peer pressure” but these factors were not wholly responsible.  Also, social media was blamed for putting pressure on girls to lose weight, look good, be popular and achieve academic success.

This decline in female happiness started in the 1970s and was noted in 2009 in a major academic study (The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness):

“By many measures the progress of women over recent decades has been extraordinary.  Given these shifts of rights and bargaining power from men to women over the past 35 years, holding all else equal, we might expect to see a concurrent shift in happiness toward women and away from men. Yet ….measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.”

It seems that this decline in happiness of young women has continued since 2009 and is now resulting in depression.

As this steady decline in happiness has been noted in women since the 1970s we cannot blame social media, modern technology or recent changes in parenting, although they may be contributory factors.  Perhaps we should look at more fundamental changes in the structure of our society since the 1970s instead?

We must remember that all living things are effectively transient life support machines for our genes. A disposable container that passes our genes into future generations.  Genes control the physical characteristics and inherent behaviours in all living things.  There is overwhelming evidence that genes control human intelligence, personality and behaviour.

Evolution has occurred at a glacial pace over the last 3,500,000,000 years. Each tick of the evolutionary clock is about 250,000 years, so we are very similar to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.

Women have a much lower reproductive capacity than men and must carefully nurture the few children they can have to get their genes into future generations.  The evolutionary pressures on men are different.

Over the last 3,500,000,000 years of evolution our genes have finely tuned their life support machines to act in their best interest.  When they need food they make us hungry, when they need water they make us thirsty.  When they need to reproduce they make us impassioned.  When they need to maintain copies of themselves in future generations they make us altruistic and nurturing for our children and grandchildren.

We are rewarded psychologically for good behaviour.  The satisfaction of a good meal, the pleasure of slaking a fierce thirst, the warm afterglow of sex. The radiance of a young woman with a new baby.  The pleasure a mother gets seeing her children happy, fed, clean and healthy. All are incentives to help our genes survive.

We are also punished psychologically for bad behaviour. The misery of following a life-course or career for which we are not suited or does not increase our reproductive capability. The unbearable guilt of perceived poor parenting.  The desperation of a childless woman towards the end of her fertile years.  All are disincentives to act against the interests of our genes.

In the modern, gender neutral, politically correct world we sometime forget what makes us happy.  And very often it is the simple things in life. The things the last 3,500,000,000 years has evolved us to do.

Perhaps in order to feel happy and fulfilled we should play the game.  We only get one shot at life.  Perhaps we should listen more to our bodies and less to politically correct ideology?

So perhaps this unhappiness is caused by women trying to be something for which they had not evolved?  Perhaps the creep of feminism since the 1970s is a contributory factor?  Perhaps women are not getting the necessary psychological rewards in a modern, gender neutral, politically correct world?  Perhaps the “sexist” 1960s philosophy was right.  Many women just want to get married and have babies.

Genetics works on a population level and cannot be used to make predictions about individuals.  However, the decline in female happiness since the 1970s occurs on a population level.

Anybody seriously interested in the happiness of women must consider all possibilities.


The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (academic reference)

Further reading:

Feminism, childlessness and female unhappiness – an evolutionary explanation

Men and Women Evolved with Conflicting Interests – why we don’t always get along


Genetic Explanations

Chivalry – An evolutionary explanation


There are a number of psychological tests that can elucidate our moral compass i.e. establish what moral beliefs we all hold.  These tests can be applied to people from different cultures and belief systems.  From these tests we can demonstrate that mankind shares an innate moral code, independent of religious indoctrination or cultural teaching.  This moral code is hardwired in the same way as much animal behaviour is hardwired.  It is part of human nature.

Psychologists investigating how far our moral behaviour depends on the gender of the people who will be affected found that as a society we are far less willing to harm women than men. Test subjects were presented with a series of moral dilemmas. The first was based on the classic “trolley problem” where people are told that they are on a bridge above a railway line and can see a runaway trolley on course to kill five people. The only way to stop the trolley is to block its path — and the only thing big enough to do that is an overweight person leaning over the bridge. Do you push the person over, killing one to save many?

When given the choice between pushing a man or a woman overwhelmingly, by 88 per cent to 12 per cent, they went for the man. When asked why they chose the man examples of responses were ‘‘in a utilitarian situation, I value women and children over men”, “‘[pushing] a man is the moral thing to do” and “women are fragile and it would be morally wrong.”

This scientific study demonstrates an intuitive and moral protective feeling towards women based on a theoretical situation.  However, this is backed up by statistics that show that as a species we are also much more accepting of harming men in the real world.  In the UK men are the victims of 62% of violent crime.  They are also much more likely to die early and violently though accident and trauma. They account for 95% of work related deaths, 92% of motorcycle deaths and have three times the overall road traffic mortality rate as women.  Men account for 75% of suicides and are 68% of all murder victims.  And just to remind ourselves that as a society we are happy to deliberately put our young men in harm’s way, the statistics for UK military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to May 2012 reports 582 male deaths and 8 female.

All the statistics seem to indicate that the world is a much more dangerous place for men than for women.  The lack of fuss over these statistics and the media obsession with violence against women shows that we are generally accepting of this fact.

This result is only a surprise if your starting assumption is that men and women are born with the same behavioural potential and society moulds us into different sexes.

Let’s accept the fact that we humans are an evolved species that has been built as a life support machine for our genes and to propagate them into future generations.  This process has taken 3,500,000,000 years.  Let’s also understand, like all other animals, that much of our behaviour is hardwired by our genes.  i.e. not learned.  Finally let’s understand that evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock is about 250,000 years, so we are very similar to our ancestors from 30,000 years ago.  We now have an explanation for this phenomenon.

Men and women are fundamentally different, have been subject to different evolutionary pressures and are hardwired to behave in different ways to ensure survival of their genes.

Women have a pathetic ability to reproduce their genes, having only a limited number of pregnancies in a life time and generally only having one offspring at a time.  In our evolutionary past many women did not survive pregnancy and child birth. Their fertility declines sharply at 35 and falls off a cliff at 40.  Men’s ability to reproduce is limited only by finding enough willing or unwilling women to impregnate.  They are fertile for nearly all their life.  So, in evolutionary terms, women are more valuable.

An isolated population with 95 men and 5 women is unlikely to do well in the long run.  A population with 95 women and 5 men has a better chance.  Consequently men and women have been hardwired to protect women.  This also explains why men are more likely to take risks and to die in accidents and war.  We have evolved to be more willing to put men in harm’s way.

This is in the best interests of our genes.


Moral Chivalry

Further reading:

Men are the main victims of violence and violent death

Why do men commit most of the crimes?

The Behaviour of Women and Why They Worry About How They Look – an Evolutionary Perspective

Women are either bisexual or lesbian, but rarely straight.

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

Why Does 50 Shades of Grey Appeal to Women?

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

Men and Women Evolved With Conflicting Interests – Why We don’t Always Get Along

Genetic Explanations

Women are either bisexual or lesbian, but rarely straight.


When it comes to what turns them on, women are either bisexual or gay, but rarely straight, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by the University of Essex.

The study, which involved 345 women using eye tracking devices and direct measurements of genital physiological sexual response, found that “straight” women were strongly sexually aroused by videos of both attractive men and attractive women – even though they reported that they are only sexually interested in men.

This was in contrast to lesbians who showed much stronger sexual responses to women than men. It shows that lesbians are more male-typical in their arousal than “straight” women. It is usually men who show distinct sexual responses to their favourite sex.

According to the author, Dr. Gerulf Rieger, “this shows us that how women appear in public does not mean that we know anything about their sexual role preferences. Men are simple, but women’s sexual responses remain a mystery.”

An understanding of evolutionary biology will demonstrate that women’s sexual response is not a mystery but entirely explainable and predictable.  See below.

This research, published in October 2015, is supported by data in the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles  published in The Lancet in November 2013.  It is one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of changing sexual habits and it indicated a big increase in relationships between women.  The number of lesbian encounters has increased fourfold.  The percentage of females who say they have had a sexual “experience”, including kissing, with another woman has increased from 4% to 16%. The number saying they have had sex with another woman has gone up from 2% to 8%.  While the figure for women has increased fourfold in 20 years, for men it has barely changed — 7% for same-sex “experiences” and from 4% to 5% for physical sex.

What has caused this change?  Have women’s desires changed?  If not, are they more likely to live out their fantasies?  Or are they behaving as they have always done, just more likely to admit to same sex relationships in survey?

Many media articles on this subject have postulated the factors which could be “causing” more women to “change” their feeling of sexual attraction towards other women

For example:  seeing more friends indulging in same sex relationships affecting their sexual orientation; internet porn and computer games causing men to fail women sexually, “driving” them into lesbian affairs; recent media exposure to “celebrity lesbians” affecting women’s sexuality; witnessing lesbian relationships in books and films affecting women’s sexuality ……..

These articles are assuming that it is society that “causes” us behave in these ways, that because society expects certain behaviour we are more likely to adopt that behaviour.

None of the media articles commentating on a major survey about one of the most basic, primordial human instincts even mentions how genetics and 3,500,000,000 years of evolution may affect women’s sexual behaviour.

There is a convincing genetic and evolutionary reason why women are more likely to find each other physically attractive and men are less likely to find each other physically attractive.

Evolution is not about survival of the species, it is about survival of the genes.  All living things are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure its genes get moved forward in time.  Living things die.  Their genes don’t.  So any behaviour conferred by those genes, which increases the likelihood of their host having more offspring, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation, amplifying that behaviour in future generations.

Evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock takes about 250,000 years, so we are virtually identical to our ancestors from a mere 50,000 years ago. And our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.  Males and females have consequently evolved very differently.

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 generally 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. She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.  So human females have evolved to be more nurturing.

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. So human males evolved to be more competitive and risk taking.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival.  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 younghealthy, fertile (i.e. physically 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.  Heterosexual women also need to recognise these traits in their competition (i.e. other women).  Women easily know if another woman is attractive.  So, even heterosexual women have evolved to appreciate the female form, and for some this will go a bit further.  This answers the question  – why women can find each other sexually attractive.

As physical attractiveness is less important to heterosexual men than heterosexual women, men have generally not evolved to know if another man is physically attractive. They tend to compete on success and status.

The desires of men and women have not changed much in 50,000 years, however women are now able to admit to, and indulge in, more lesbian behaviour because we are more tolerant and open about homosexuality.  Technology has allowed anonymous sexual surveys leading to more honesty in answering survey questions; and the anonymity of the internet allows women to meet similar minded women online and explore their sexuality without having to go to a terrifying lesbian club by themselves.

Genetic research consistently shows that the effect of our environment on our behaviour is much smaller and much more transient than we imagine.  This is important because our politicians incorrectly believe they can make big changes to human behaviour by meddling in aspects of public social policy and personal liberty; whereas much of our behaviour is already hardwired by evolutionary processes.

I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour, and nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  But please remember evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

Further Reading:

Getting in touch with our female sexuality

National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

Sexual Arousal and Masculinity-Femininity of Women

The Behaviour of Women and Why They Worry About How They Look – an Evolutionary Perspective

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

Why Does 50 Shades of Grey Appeal to Women?

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

Men and Women Evolved With Conflicting Interests – Why We don’t Always Get Along

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)


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



Gay Marriage and Liberty

Arguments in favour of gay marriage:

1. Gay people want to get married

2. It is important to them.

3. It affects nobody else.

Arguments against gay marriage:



Further reading:

Why homosexuality is natural – an evolutionary explanation

Is there a bit of lesbianism in every woman?



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.


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