Four years ago I claimed that it was more important to have educated parents than rich ones. Parents who are educated were very likely bright to begin with, and judged worth educating as much as possible. They may even have gained in ability by virtue of further education. Brighter parents usually earn more than less bright ones, so many educated parents will also be wealthy. Nonetheless, if you have to chose which is best for children, choose education over wealth. Why? Because intelligence is the greatest wealth.
I’ve known for years that Rindermann had all these results you will see below, and it is great to see them all gathered together, and the analyses extended to complete the overall picture.
In 19 (sub)samples from seven countries (United States, Austria, Germany, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Vietnam, Brazil), we analyzed the impact of parental education compared with wealth on the cognitive ability of children (aged 4–22 years, total N = 15,297). The background of their families ranged from poor indigenous remote villagers to academic families in developed countries, including parents of the gifted. Children’s cognitive ability was measured with mental speed tests, Culture Fair Intelligence Test (CFT), the Raven’s, Wiener Entwicklungstest (WET), Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Piagetian tasks, Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Parental wealth was estimated by asking for income, indirectly by self-assessment of relative wealth, and by evaluating assets. The mean direct effect of parental education was greater than wealth. In path analyses, parental education also showed stronger impact on children’s intelligence than familial economic status. The effects on mental speed were smaller than for crystallized intelligence, but still larger for parental education than familial economic status. Additional factors affecting children’s cognitive ability are number of books, marital status, educational behavior of parents, and behaviour of children. If added, a general background (ethnicity, migration) factor shows strong effects. These findings are discussed in terms of environmental versus hidden genetic effects.
Socio-economic status is associated with educational attainment, and as we know, a frequently observed correlation suggests an underlying cause. (In this instance, the correlational nature of the association is not seen as a grave disadvantage).
The popular interpretation of these findings in the media as well as in science is that they are caused by differences in the wealth of parents (for examples, see Rindermann & Baumeister, 2015): The rich can support their children through costly interventions that are beyond the ability of less wealthy parents, such as better housing, private schools, educational toys and computers, entrance to expensive museums, and hiring tutors. By the same token, the economically and socially disadvantaged poor cannot offer their children such supports. A straightforward intervention derived from this position was publicly formulated by Richard Nisbett in his keynote “Bring the Family Address” at the 2009 Association for Psychological Science convention in San Francisco: “If we want the poor to be smarter we should make them richer” (Wargo,2009, p. 17).
However, a closer look at different empirical phenomena makes it doubtful that economic differences are really at the root of differences in intellectual outcomes as opposed to underlying causes that they proxy. Consider six types of suggestive evidence for the position that educational mechanisms are stronger drivers of offspring intelligence than economic ones.
1. In many countries, there is only a low or even no positive relationship between indicators of economic wealth of families (e.g., owning TV, mobile phone, computer) and cognitive student assessment results; and sometimes, the relationships are negative.
2. Similarly, in international comparisons with individual-level data (PISA 2006, parental educational level is more strongly associated with children’s abilities than are parental wealth indicators.
3. Cognitive elites such as Nobel Laureates come less often from wealthy social strata than from well-educated ones.
4. A further type of evidence for educational mechanisms is indirect; rather than showing that parental education drives offspring intelligence, it shows that off-spring’s education drives their own intelligence, thus implicating underlying cognitive processes that are inculcated through education as an important contributor to IQ differences. In a narrative review of the historical literature, Ceci (1991) found that each year of missed or delayed schooling led to a decrement in cognitive ability. For example, missed schooling due to family travel, summer vacations, illness, dropping out, or absence of teachers in remote regions all led to reduced IQ performance compared with children who had not missed school: Two adolescents with the same IQ score at age 14 differed by nearly 8IQ points by the age of 18 if one of them remained in school until that age and the other dropped out at age 14 (Ceci, 1991). In a series of analyses, Winship and Korenman (1999) modelled IQ changes under different assumptions about the degree of measurement error. They estimated that the impact of 1 year of schooling results in an average IQ increase of about 2.7 IQ points for each yearof school attendance.
5. Parental ability and attitudes create an important developmental environmentfor children as illustrated by a qualitative Austrian study (Großschedl, 2006): Some parents whose children were cared for and supported by a public social program (the state pays all the rent including water, electricity, and central heat-ing) burned the books and learning materials supplied for their children “for heating” during vacations. They stated that these materials are not important and education is not important for girls, because they will marry later. Großschedl Rindermann and Ceci 301 (2006) found that during home visits, it was difficult to create a learning atmosphere for applying the training program, for homework, and for consulting parents, because parents and their children wanted to watch TV all day.
6. Consistent with the above five sources of empirical research, there are also anecdotal examples that contradict the popular assumption that a more expensive environment favors intellectual development: In Atlanta (based on observations in 2008), there are two famous zoological institutions, one charging US$37), and offering fishes, whales, and other animals swimming in basins with few or no explanatory texts describing the animals’ habitat, evolutionary or ontogenetic development, and behavior. The second institution (the Natural History Museum) had a US$19 entrance charge but offers age-appropriate voluminous written and verbal explanations, of the habits and geographic regions of animals including the presentation of complex topics such as evolution and the Doppler effect. The more expensive but superficial place attracted far larger crowds of which the largest fraction appeared to come from seemingly lower SES strata. The cheaper but cognitively more stimulating museum was nearly empty and the few people attending it appeared, from their dress and manner, to be from the middle or upper classes, many of them were whole families including fathers.
During a 2010 visit by one of the authors to the free Smithsonian Museums in Washington, few or no people from apparently poor backgrounds were in attendance (visited December 2010). Unsystematic observations suggest that money does not invariably purchase better educational outcomes, but need to be confirmed by systematic studies.
The NLSY sample dominates in terms of size, but the very disparate set of other samples mostly conform to the general pattern.
Read it all here:
Frankly, I think this is the end of the line for the claim that giving families money and books will boost the abilities of their children. It is good education will have an effect, but understanding how much will depend on close control of genetic confounders. Some families spend money in ways which may reduce rather than encourage the wish to study. Once all children in such studies are genotyped we will get a much better understanding of what is going on.