Shock report: Some kids are brighter than others


A new report from Professor Robert Plomin at King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, based on studies of 11,000+ pairs of twins, shows that genetic inheritance — that is, innate intelligence — accounts for nearly 60% of differences in academic performance, with schools accounting for around 36%.   Presumably the other 4% reflects home background.

I am fairly astonished that this appears to be news.  It has long been accepted that a large part of academic performance is based on inherited intelligence, which is measured (albeit imperfectly) by intelligence tests.  Indeed this is surely self-evident to anyone who went to school, which includes most of us.  Some kids are just brighter than others, and find it easier to learn and understand.  Professor Plomin adds a new angle — these differences are not softened by time, but appear to increase.  I suggest that this may because less able children reach a plateau of achievement, after which they find progress very difficult, while more able children forge ahead.

I have previously argued that since bright parents tend to have bright children, and since bright people tend to succeed both academically and in their lives and careers, there will tend to be a correlation between academic ability and social class.  This has earned me a number of brickbats from people writing to say “Are you telling me I’m stupid because I came from a poorer background?”.  So one more time: no, I’m not telling you that.  Bright people don’t necessarily have bright children, and bright people don’t necessarily do well and become middle-class.  There are large numbers of exceptions.

Nonetheless broadly, on balance, statistically speaking, bright parents are more likely to have bright children, and more likely to succeed in life and career.  Therefore (again, statistically speaking), universities which select on academic ability will, on balance, tend to find that their intake is skewed to the middle classes.

This of course is anathema to leftist teachers and to the academic educational establishment, who believe as an article of faith that all children are intellectually equal, and that any perceived differences are the result of discrimination and deprivation.  But it is also a vital antidote to the egalitarian nonsense served up by the likes of Nick Clegg, and others who ought to know better.  A middle-class bias in university intake is not evidence of social and class discrimination.  On the contrary, it is the inevitable outcome of the heritability of intelligence.

It follows that well-meaning policies and quota systems designed to achieve “fair access” only have the effect of denying places to those who deserve them on grounds of ability, and offering places to those who do not deserve them.  This is evidently bad for academic standards and therefore for our economy generally.  But it is also bad for the “beneficiaries”, for those who get to university on the basis of quotas rather than ability.  These individuals, for whose “benefit” the fair access system has been created, will struggle to keep up, will enjoy their work less, and will be much more likely to drop out (and drop-out rates at our B-list universities are already very serious).

Would you rather have a son who did well at an apprenticeship and became a successful plumber or car mechanic — or a son who dropped out after two years in a course in nuclear physics or brain surgery, and ended up flipping burgers in McDonalds?


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15 Responses to Shock report: Some kids are brighter than others

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    Worried your kid is a klutz? Fear not, there’s always mental performance enhancing drugs.,8599,1869435,00.html

    Your kid might burn out at 30, but boy will their school performance shine.

  2. Encounters with reality are often troubling for the teaching profession, who labour to make all children equal (except in grammar schools and private schools, which the outsiders hate), which is why this research will in fact be surprising to those who wish to keep the socialista egalitarianism going…there’s none so blind as them as won’t see, said Shakespeare…

  3. Neil Craig says:

    This 60:40 relationsip has long been confirmed by studies of identical twins separated at or near birth. Indeed the correlations between life experiences of such twins is quite remarkable.But is too incorrect to report. For example one raised as a German Nazi and the other a Jew in Trinidad

    On the other hand a statistical tendency is not predestination. Thus the smartest 20% of bin drivers have higher IQs than the lowest 20% of doctors.

  4. nat merrill says:

    Fortunately home background has a meaningless impact on academic performance! Even for identical twins!

  5. ps3person says:

    You make a very valid point about engineering by the well meaning but ill informed Roger, but is this not done in so many areas of life, and particularly in the interests (or not!) of sex equality?

    Female tennis champions at Wimbledon for example, now enjoy the same prize money as their male counterparts, yet they are only obliged to play a maximum of three sets per game as opposed to the men’s five, and their games are not as fast or as powerful, reflected in the cost of a final ticket at £900, against the men’s at over £3,000. The women also attract less sponsorship and offer less entertainment, yet during Wimbledon 2012, the women’s champion earned around £64k per set played, while the men’s champion earned £47k. How can that be justified, or called equality?

    There are many other areas where women are treated ‘equally’ to men, even when they are not ‘equal’ to the job, including the police, the army, or the blatant bias they consistently enjoy in the ‘family courts’ (a misnomer if ever there was one). We are not all equal in our levels of intelligence, but neither are men and women equal, particularly in terms of their physical abilities, which is why there has to be a women’s competition separate to a men’s competition in all sports.

    Just like the EU, why don’t our esteemed leaders stop pretending everybody’s equal, and return to fairness through honesty. No, forget that, they would have to find new careers!

    • In my humble opinion the earnings of sports stars (like the earnings of other entertainers) should be based on their box-office appeal. If this means that male tennis stars earn more than the girls, or female catwalk models earn more than the men, so be it.

      • ps3person says:

        Quite so Roger, and thanks for the reply. In public life and the workplace (outside of sport), men should only get paid the same as women if they are fully capable of performing to the same level, and the same should apply to women. We appear to have entered a strange and ethereal world known as PC, where we must pretend we are all the same, and that irrespective of actual ability, we must all receive exactly the same remuneration. And everyone, particularly men it has to be said, are too afraid to speak out openly about it, and challenge so much of the feminist nonsense organisations just like the BBC, or our government, are feeding us on a daily basis

  6. B Hough says:

    Academic acheivment is not the be all and end all as you say Roger.
    I failed my 11 plus but when I took the admittance exam for a De-Havilland training school I met with friends who had gone to grammar school, all of them failed I got in and followed the electronics option.
    Later in my 30`s I attended an interview and test for International Computers along with many university leavers, only one vacancy, I got it. Only proving, I think that I had a more practical hereditory gene than an academical one, both as important to the development of human technology.
    Someone with neither can become just as important as a financial wizard and be the boss of both.

    • Exactly my point, Mr. Hough. Sorry if I wasn’t clear enough. Some people will benefit from an academic education, be it Ancient Greek or nuclear physics. Others have a different skill set, perhaps a more practical bent, and will benefit from a different kind of education. The Nick Clegg error is to assume that everyone benefits equally from a university education, and that all should have an equal chance to go to university, regardless of aptitude.

  7. Mike Stallard says:

    From a Christian point of view, life is not a race. It is not a matter of scrabbling into university or into a profession like the law or making a hell of a lot of money.
    It is a matter of doing what you really need to do.
    Some people really do not need to do well at school. They really don’t. Most politicians, though, simply cannot understand that. And keeping a boy or girl on at school over fifteen just to massage the unemployment figures is simply inviting anger and bad behaviour which, of course, stops everyone else from learning too.

  8. Graham Brown says:

    Ideology, it seems, particularly that of leftie intellectual extremists, requires neither logic nor reality, though you could argue that someone’s perception, whatever that is based on, is their reality. In much of modern social research, findings are so often actually statements of the obvious, as in the case you raise. I cannot fathom the rationale of the left-wing elitists who believe in the ‘all must have prizes’ philosophy but it seems to me, more so the older I get, that it is a skewed approach to child development and damaging in the extreme. If it had any basis in reality, the proof would be out there to see after four decades. Regrettably however, evidenced by the many thousands of young people not only unemployed but considered unemployable, many children have not blossomed into the confident, skilled and talented individuals we were assured they would.

  9. Ian Hills says:

    From Arthur Jensen’s studies in the 1950s onward, psychologists have known about ethnic differences in IQ too. Again, this is a matter of averages, not individuals, and I can think of plenty of BME people who make members of the “whites only” UAF look stupid.

    The US in particular has suffered from the ensuing PC blindness. Thanks to affirmative action, the country is now deluged with low academic achievers holding worthless “university” degrees. All you can do is to recruit them as payroll voters into the already-bloated bureaucracy.

    Rote-learners from the Open University have made a beeline for the public services too, but being close to retirement age have not been such a burden to the taxpayer.

    • ps3person says:

      One can only hope that one day those responsible for so much of this unfounded pc nonsense arrive at the eventual realisation of how counter intuitive and counter productive it all is. At least hope is something they can’t destroy…not completely anyway!

  10. steven wood says:

    As a kid from a poor background who has prospered through the much derided Grammar School system, I can only concur with your comments.If Grammar schools were re introduced, albeit with a little more flexibility in terms of allowing re sits for kids who had an off day, the vast majority of kids and consequently society in general would be much more prosperous.Just look at the comparative results of the remaining 160 or so Grammars compared to their average state school equivalents.

    Steven Wood

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