Test scores, education, and poverty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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 Y). 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRace and Intelligence
Subtitle of host publicationSeparating Science From Myth
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)1410604330, 9781135651794
ISBN (Print)0805837574, 9781138866652
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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