Race and Intelligence: Separating Science from Myth

By Jefferson M. Fish | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
13

Test Scores, Education,
and Poverty
Michael Hout

In The Bell Curve, Herrnstein and Murray (1994) argued that individual differences in intelligence are the main source of inequality in the United States. They base their claim on an analysis of how poverty (and other outcomes) related to test scores in a large national database known as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Their interpretation of the test of cognitive abilities that is part of the NLSY rests on the assumption that test scores reflect abilities that are innate, not taught. Evidence presented here contradicts that assumption. They dismissed class origins as a factor in poverty; improved measures of class background contradict that conclusion. They ignored the role of gender and family in poverty and the role of institutions in determining whether individual characteristics matter or not. Patterns in the NLSY show how gender, family circumstances, and other institutional factors are important influences that account for more of the variation in poverty than test scores do. Altogether the results imply a stronger effect of social environment for U.S. poverty than Herrnstein and Murray's analysis implies.

The existence of poverty amidst plenty has raised moral questions for Americans of every era. Troubled souls could at least take some solace in the tendency for poverty to spread only during hard times. Usually good times raised the incomes of the poor as well as the rich, so that poverty abated when the economy turned up. It was possible to entertain the hope that enough sustained economic growth could someday wipe out

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