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A Reanalysis of The Bell Curve

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  • Sanders Korenman
  • Christopher Winship

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Sanders Korenman & Christopher Winship, 1995. "A Reanalysis of The Bell Curve," NBER Working Papers 5230, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5230
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Goldberger, A.S. & Manski, C.F., 1995. "Review Article: The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray," Working papers 9502, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    2. Neal, Derek A & Johnson, William R, 1996. "The Role of Premarket Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 869-895, October.
    3. Ashenfelter, Orley & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Estimates of the Economic Returns to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1157-1173, December.
    4. Gary Chamberlain, 1980. "Analysis of Covariance with Qualitative Data," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 47(1), pages 225-238.
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    Cited by:

    1. Murnane, Richard J. & Willett, John B. & Braatz, M. Jay & Duhaldeborde, Yves, 2001. "Do different dimensions of male high school students' skills predict labor market success a decade later? Evidence from the NLSY," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 311-320, August.
    2. Zhao, Bo & Ondrich, Jan & Yinger, John, 2006. "Why do real estate brokers continue to discriminate? Evidence from the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(3), pages 394-419, May.
    3. Erik Plug & Wim Vijverberg, 2003. "Schooling, Family Background, and Adoption: Is It Nature or Is It Nurture?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(3), pages 611-641, June.
    4. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 1995. "Race, Children's Cognitive Achievement and The Bell Curve," NBER Working Papers 5240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Silke Anger & Guido Heineck, 2010. "Cognitive abilities and earnings - first evidence for Germany," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(7), pages 699-702.
    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. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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).
    10. R. M. Hauser & M. H. Huang, "undated". "Trends in Black-White Test-Score Differentials," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1110-96, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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