Content::The Bell Curve


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Content The Bell Curve, published in 1994, was written by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray to explain the variations in intelligence in American society, warn of some consequences of that variation, and propose social policies for mitigating the worst of the consequences. Many of the arguments put forth by the authors are controversial, ranging from the relationships between low measured intelligence and anti-social behavior, to a genetic component of the low observed test scores for African-American (compared to whites and East Asians). The book was heavily publicized as it was released, just after the death of Herrnstein. In the first several months of its release, 400,000 copies of the book were sold around the world. Hundreds of reviews and commentaries were written about the book soon after its publication. The Bell Curve argues that:

  1. Intelligence exists and is accurately measurable across racial, language, and national boundaries.
  2. Intelligence is one of, if not the most, important factors correlated to economic, social, and overall success in the United States, and its importance is increasing.
  3. Intelligence is largely (40% to 80%) heritable.
  4. No one has so far been able to manipulate IQ to a significant degree through changes in environmental factors—except for child adoption—and in the light of these failures, future successful manipulations are unlikely.
  5. The United States has been in denial of these facts. A better public understanding of the nature of intelligence and its social correlates is necessary to guide future policy decisions.

The book's argument is based on the authors' analysis of data compiled in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY), a study conducted by the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics tracking thousands of Americans starting in the 1980s. All participants in the NLSY took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a battery of ten tests taken by all who apply for entry into the armed services. (Some had taken an IQ test in high school, and the median correlation of the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) scores and those IQ test scores was .81). Participants were later evaluated for social and economic outcomes. In general, IQ/AFQT scores were a better predictor of life outcomes than social class background. Similarly, after statistically controlling for differences in IQ, many outcome differences between racial-ethnic groups disappeared.

Economic and social correlates of IQ
IQ <75 75-90 90-110 110-125 >125
US population distribution 5 20 50 20 5
Married by age 30 72 81 81 72 67
Out of labor force more than 1 month out of year (men) 22 19 15 14 10
Unemployed more than 1 month out of year (men) 12 10 7 7 2
Divorced in 5 years 21 22 23 15 9
 % of children w/ IQ in bottom decile (mothers) 39 17 6 7 -
Had an illegitimate baby (mothers) 32 17 8 4 2
Lives in poverty 30 16 6 3 2
Ever incarcerated (men) 7 7 3 1 0
Chronic welfare recipient (mothers) 31 17 8 2 0
High school dropout 55 35 6 0.4 0
Scored "Yes" on "Middle Class Values Index"Unknown extension tag "ref" 16 30 50 67 74
Values are the percentage of each IQ sub-population, among non-Hispanic whites only, fitting each descriptor. Herrnstein & Murray (1994) pp. 171, 158, 163, 174, 230, 180, 132, 194, 247-248, 194, 146, 264 respectively.
Unknown extension tag "references"

Policy recommendations

The book argued the average genetic IQ of the United States is declining owing, to the tendency of the more intelligent to have fewer children than the less intelligent, the generation length to be shorter for the less intelligent, and the large-scale immigration to the United States of those with low intelligence. Discussing a possible future political outcome of an intellectually stratified society, the authors stated that they "fear that a new kind of conservatism is becoming the dominant ideology of the affluent – not in the social tradition of an Edmund Burke or in the economic tradition of an Adam Smith but 'conservatism' along Latin American lines, where to be conservative has often meant doing whatever is necessary to preserve the mansions on the hills from the menace of the slums below."<ref>page 518.</ref> Moreover, they fear that increasing welfare will create a "custodial state" in "a high-tech and more lavish version of the Indian reservation for some substantial minority of the nation's population." They also predict increasing totalitarianism: "It is difficult to imagine the United States preserving its heritage of individualism, equal rights before the law, free people running their own lives, once it is accepted that a significant part of the population must be made permanent wards of the states."<ref>page 526.</ref>

Herrnstein and Murray recommended the elimination of welfare policies that encourage poor women to have babies:

We can imagine no recommendation for using the government to manipulate fertility that does not have dangers. But this highlights the problem: The United States already has policies that inadvertently social-engineer who has babies, and it is encouraging the wrong women. "If the United States did as much to encourage high-IQ women to have babies as it now does to encourage low-IQ women, it would rightly be described as engaging in aggressive manipulation of fertility." The technically precise description of America's fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. We urge generally that these policies, represented by the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended. The government should stop subsidizing births to anyone rich or poor. The other generic recommendation, as close to harmless as any government program we can imagine, is to make it easy for women to make good on their prior decision not to get pregnant by making available birth control mechanisms that are increasingly flexible, foolproof, inexpensive, and safe.<ref>pp. 548–49.</ref>

The book also argued for reducing immigration into the U.S. which was argued to lower the average national IQ. It also recommended against policies of affirmative action.

The Bell Curve sections
Intro  Content  Reception  Notes  References  Further reading  External links  

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