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A Reanalysis of The Bell Curve

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  • Sanders Korenman
  • Christopher Winship
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    Abstract

    In The Bell Curve Herrnstein and Murray argue that a youth's intelligence (IQ) is a more important determinant of social and economic success in adulthood than is the socioeconomic status (SES) of his or her parents. Herrnstein and Murray base this conclusion on comparison of effects of IQ score (measured at ages 15 and 23) and the effects of an index of parents' SES from models of economic status, marriage, welfare use, involvement in crime, as well as several outcomes for young children. Reviewers of The Bell Curve have questioned whether Herrnstein and Murray's estimates of the effects of IQ are overstated by their use of a rather crude measure of parents' SES. Comparisons of siblings in the Herrnstein and Murray sample, a more complete and accurate way to control for family background, reveal little evidence that Herrnstein and Murray's estimates of the effects of IQ score are biased by omitted family background characteristics (with the possible exception of outcomes for young children). However, there is evidence of substantial bias due to measurement error in their estimates of the effects of parents' socioeconomic status. In addition, Herrnstein and Murray's measure of parental SES fails to capture the effects of important elements of family background (such as single-parent family structure at age 14). As a result, their analysis gives an exaggerated impression of the importance of IQ relative to parents' SES, and relative to family background more generally. Estimates based on a variety of methods, including analyses of siblings, suggest that parental family background is at least as important, and may be more important than IQ in determining socioeconomic success in adulthood.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5230.

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    Date of creation: Aug 1995
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    Publication status: published as Arrow, Kenneth, Samuel Bowles, and Steven Durlauf (eds.) Meritocracy and economic inequality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5230

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    References

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    1. Chamberlain, Gary, 1980. "Analysis of Covariance with Qualitative Data," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(1), pages 225-38, January.
    2. Derek A. Neal & William R. Johnson, 1995. "The Role of Pre-Market Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," NBER Working Papers 5124, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Alan Krueger & Orley Ashenfelter, 1992. "Estimates of the Economic Return to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins," NBER Working Papers 4143, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Goldberger, A.S. & Manski, C.F., 1995. "Review Article: The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray," Working papers 9502, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
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    Cited by:
    1. Bo Zhao & Jan Ondrich & John Yinger, 2005. "Why Do Real Estate Brokers Continue to Discriminate? Evidence from the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 67, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    2. R. M. Hauser & M. H. Huang, . "Trends in Black-White Test-Score Differentials," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1110-96, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    3. Plug, Erik & Vijverberg, Wim, 2000. "Schooling, Family Background, and Adoption: Is It Nature of Is It Nurture?," Discussion Papers 736, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.
    4. Pierre Lefebvre & Philip Merrigan, 1998. "Family Background, Family Income, Maternal Work and Child Development," Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers 78, CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal.
    5. Choi, Seok Joon & Ondrich, Jan & Yinger, John, 2005. "Do rental agents discriminate against minority customers? Evidence from the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 1-26, March.
    6. Painter, G. & Levine, D.I., 1999. "Daddies, Devotion, & Dollars: Hoe Do They Matter for Youth," Papers 73, California Berkeley - Institute of Industrial Relations.
    7. Gonzalo Olcina Vauteren & Luisa Escriche, 2006. "Education And Family Income: Can Poor Children Signal Their Talent?," Working Papers. Serie AD 2006-20, Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Económicas, S.A. (Ivie).
    8. Anger, Silke & Heineck, Guido, 2010. "Cognitive Abilities and Earnings – First Evidence for Germany," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 699-702.
    9. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Yves Duhaldeborde & John H. Tyler, 2000. "How important are the cognitive skills of teenagers in predicting subsequent earnings?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(4), pages 547-568.
    10. Pierre Lefebvre & Philip Merrigan, 1998. "Work Schedules, Job Characteristics, Parenting Practices and Children's Outcomes," Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers 77, CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal.
    11. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 1995. "Race, Children's Cognitive Achievement and The Bell Curve," NBER Working Papers 5240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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