Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed?

By N. J. Mackintosh | Go to book overview
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Intelligence and social mobility



IN MAY 1961 the British Journal of Statistical Psychology published an article by Cyril Burt entitled "'Intelligence and social mobility'". Burt summarized his paper as follows:

The main thesis of the following paper is that, in a highly organized society, the discrepancies between the general intelligence of the children and the occupational class into which they are born is bound to produce a large and fairly constant amount of 'basic mobility', quite apart from any deliberate changes in the political or educational structure of the society.

Since the correlation between the intelligence of fathers and sons is only about 0.50 it is evident that, when classified according to their occupational status, (i) the mean intelligence of the children belonging to each class will exhibit a marked regression towards the general mean, and (ii) the intelligence of the individual children within each class will vary over a far wider range than that of their fathers. These deductions are fully confirmed by tables compiled to show the actual distribution of intelligence among adults and children belonging to the various occupational categories. It follows that, if the frequency distribution within the several classes is to remain constant (and still more if there is to be an increasing degree of vocational adjustment among later generations), a considerable amount of social mobility must inevitably take place, involving between 20 and 30 per cent of the population. Approximate estimates are attempted of both the actual and the ideal amounts. Data obtained from the after-histories of schoolchildren, followed up in later life, are analysed to ascertain the main psychological causes tending to produce a rise or drop in occupational status. ( Burt 1961, p. 3)

Burt's paper led to increased research interest both in Britain and the USA on the relationship between IQ scores of fathers and their adult sons and occupational mobility. For example, in 1963 Young and Gibson published the results of a pilot study of 47 father-son pairs living in Cambridge, UK. Comparisons of the father-son IQs were in accord with Burt's findings, as were the results of a later study of Cambridge scientists,


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