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The East Asian Exception to Socio-Economic IQ Influences
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TAC-RaceIQ In “Race, IQ, and Wealth,” I examined the pattern of IQ scores for various European peoples as presented by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in IQ and the Wealth of Nations and noted the considerable evidence for a large socio-economic influence. In nearly all cases, impoverished, rural populations seemed to exhibit far lower IQ scores than affluent, urban ones, even when the populations compared are genetically indistinguishable. Furthermore, these lower IQs often rise rapidly once conditions improve, in what might be called a “Super-Flynn Effect.”

However, this strong relationship between wealth and nominal IQ seems to disappear when we examine East Asian populations. A few decades ago, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and even Japan had extremely low per capita GDPs relative to those of America or Europe, yet almost all their tested IQs were around 100 or higher, comparable to those of the wealthiest and most advanced European-derived nations. In many cases, their incomes and standards of living were far below those of the impoverished nations of Southern and Eastern Europe, yet they showed no signs of the substantially depressed performance generally found in these latter countries, whose IQs were usually in the 88–94 range. This can be seen in the table below.


For consistency, all these results are drawn directly from Lynn/Vanhanen, and include their Flynn and other IQ adjustments up and down, several of which seemed rather large and arbitrary, with the GDP obtained from the World Bank, adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP 2005$) unless indicated by an asterisk. Much of this economic data is somewhat uncertain and should be used only for rough comparative purposes. A wide range of additional IQ results from these same countries are found in their 2006 sequel, but these lack testing-date information, making it impossible to compare with income levels or discern historical trends, and they anyway seem to fall into the same range.


This clear pattern of East Asian IQs remaining almost unaffected by depressed socio-economic conditions had also occurred when such ethnic populations lived as small minority groups in America. Whereas in the early decades of the 20th century schoolchildren whose families had immigrated from Southern and Eastern Europe tended to have very low tested IQs, often in the 80–85 range, most studies of that era showed that children from Chinese-American and Japanese-American immigrant backgrounds had IQs similar or even superior to the white mainstream population, despite their much lower socio-economic backgrounds.

One possible explanation of this striking result might be that these East Asian test results actually were artificially depressed due to relative deprivation and that once this condition was alleviated, Asian scores would rapidly rise by the same amounts as had those of various European-origin groups in different periods, perhaps 10–15 points. But this would imply that the fully-adjusted mean IQ scores of East Asians might approach the 120 range, and this seems unlikely, since affluent, well-educated present-day Asian nations such as Japan or South Korea show no evidence of mean IQs so high.

Indeed, the most obvious aspect of the East Asian IQs shown in the table below is that they bear almost no relationship to the wealth of the countries at the time the testing was performed. For example, Japan in 1951 was desperately poor, and its real per capita GDP rose tenfold during the 40 years that followed, but its IQ rose just a couple of points. Similar huge rises in income without significant rises in IQ occurred in South Korea, Taiwan, and other countries. The 2006 sequel by Lynn and Vanhanen provides numerous additional IQ reports from East Asian countries, but they all continue to fall into this same general range of scores. Furthermore, Asian-Americans living in the United States these days are generally affluent, but although they perform very well in school, their tested IQs do not have a mean anywhere near 120.

The most plausible inference from these decades of accumulated data is that the IQs of East Asian peoples tend to be more robust and insulated against the negative impact of cultural or economic deprivation than those of European groups or various others—a truly remarkable finding. This might be due to cultural factors of some type, or perhaps certain aspects of East Asian spoken or written languages. But a fascinating possibility is that this IQ robustness may have a substantially genetic component.

This would be somewhat similar to various physiological findings in recent years. For example, health studies in America have repeatedly shown that individuals of East Asian ancestry tend to have significantly longer life expectancy and lower rates of illness than most other American ethnic groups, and this effect seems independent of other environmental or dietary inputs and persists even after controlling for socio-economic factors. Over one hundred years ago, The Changing Chinese by A.E. Ross, one of America’s greatest early sociologists, provided copious anecdotal evidence indicating greater Chinese resistance to illness and injury and perhaps even an ability to survive on more meager food rations. Certainly these sorts of traits might be expected to have undergone strong selection in a country such as China, whose huge population had lived many centuries at the absolute Malthusian edge of starvation.

With regard to mental traits, decades of testing have established that the intelligence subcomponents of East Asians and Europeans are somewhat different in structure, with East Asians being relatively stronger in spatial ability and Europeans stronger in verbal ability. Since these differences are also found in East Asians raised and acculturated in America and other Western countries, they seem to have a large genetic component. Although this particular result was less well established at the time, the general notion that different groups might have differing relative strengths in particular abilities was the centerpiece of Howard Gardner’s famous “Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” publicized in his 1985 book Frames of Mind, which has received widespread attention in media and educational circles over the last couple of decades.

Although the precise genetic basis of the differing East Asian and European skews in mental ability has not been determined, some corresponding physical traits have already been localized in recent genetic studies, notably skin color. Both Northeast Asians and Northern Europeans tend to have relatively pale skin, presumably due to the evolutionary pressure they experienced to synthesize maximal amounts of Vitamin D under weak sunlight during the thousands of years they lived in northern latitudes. But in the last decade, we have discovered that the particular genetic mechanisms that they evolved to block melanin production and produce lighter skin are dissimilar, having developed via entirely different mutational pathways.

To the extent that East Asian IQs are indeed far less vulnerable to negative socio-economic factors than those of other racial groups, recognizing this fact might make it far easier for us to admit the important role that such environmental influences might play in determining the nominal IQs of other populations.

—Ron Unz

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity, Science • Tags: IQ, Race/IQ 
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  1. scott says: • Website

    Could be that the 1000+ years of merit testing for the emperors bureaucracy might have something to do with it or perhaps the language aspect. For example if the information is correct you need to learn/ memorize a minimum of 3 to 4K lolograms to become relatively literate in Chinese. Funny though, most all of the inventions and ideas that make up our modern world are from the west.

  2. scott says: • Website

    Chinese food (minus the MSG) has often been referred to as a space age diet. This could explain the longevity aspect.

  3. Severn says:

    The most plausible inference from these decades of accumulated data is that the IQs of East Asian peoples tend to be more robust and insulated against the negative impact of cultural or economic deprivation than those of European groups or various others—a truly remarkable finding.

    An even more plausible inference is that your fundamental theory about poor rural people having lower IQ’s which magically shoot up when those people move to a richer country – a theory which rests entirely on a single IQ study of Irish school-children – is wrong.

    If you accept that eminently logical conclusion then you do not have to construct any elaborate “East Asian Exception” to try to sledgehammer the data into shape.

  4. Gian says:

    I could never discover whether the IQ/ per captia GDP correlation by nations has been weighed by the national population.

    That is. are China and India given their due weights relative to Monaco and Iceland?.

    If yes, than it is hard to see how a firm correlation is reached between IQ and wealth, considering China’s low wealth and high IQ.

  5. Krek says:


    Which ‘inventions that make up our modern world’ were invented by the West exactly? Would it be gunpowder, the compass or paper?

    That’s right, all Chinese inventions.

  6. scott says: • Website

    In response to Kirk. Try Real sailing ships/steamships, steam engines, rail roads, internal combustion engine, electricity, light bulb, telephone, etc.etc.etc.

  7. Chuck says:


    And what about the Greater Middle East? Try comparing the scores of oil rich Bahrain, Kuwait,and Saudi Arabia to Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, and Jordan. In this example, you control for culture to some extent.

    A better way to analyze the association between wealth and IQ, is to do a cross-lagged study and look at the correlation between IQ and GDP at different points time intervals. This was done by Rindermann (2008); his conclusion was that wealth, per se, is a poor explanatory variable for IQ. See also Rindermann (2007):

    “Easily testable is the suspicion of Brunner & Romain that the national G-factor and cognitive-ability levels are indicators of national prosperity. First, the correlations between cognitive and educational levels are higher (r¼.78) than between intelligence and wealth (r¼.63) or education and wealth (r¼.60). Second, the correlation between intelligence tests and student assessment tests (r¼.86) remains after partialing out GNP (rp¼.76). Third, the positive manifold still exists after partialing out GNP. The first unrotated factor explains 81.8% of the variance, factor loadings on the G-factor are still high (see Figure 4). Fourth, wealth, politics, and cognitive abilities load on different factors (Sternberg; see Table 1). Fifth, there are reciprocal causes between intelligence and wealth (as expected by Brunner & Romain) but longitudinal studies show stronger effects of cognitive ability on wealth than of wealth on intelligence (Rindermann, 2007b). A little bit odd is this assertion formulated by researchers in Luxembourg: Luxembourg has the highest level in GNP worldwide but to this day is not famous for very good results in tests of cognitive competence or other indicators for particularly high cognitive abilities.”

    The Wealth –> IQ explanation is a dead end.

  8. Tim says:

    @ scott

    It’s not that surprising considering the history.

    For centuries, China had technological superiority but a stagnant, bureaucratic government led to their downfall.

    In addition, during this period of turmoil, Western nations started to colonize most of Asia, using unequal and racist policies to stamp out innovation for fear the “natives” would rebel.

    So it’s no wonder that currently most of the modern inventions are from the West since they East didn’t even get a chance to participate.

    But nowadays, you see a lot of inventions and ideas from the more developed Asian nations in areas such as green technology, semi-conductors, GM foods, and even business processes (e.g. JIT).

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    @ Tim,

    >So it’s no wonder that currently most of the modern inventions are from the West since they East didn’t even get a chance to participate.

    Which is why I think, organization and society matters more than IQ in terms of intellectual achievement.

  10. Stanley says:

    China has had high intelligence but low GDP because their wealth was artificially suppressed through communist revolution.

    With the adoption of capitalistic elements, their per capita GDP has gone from the 1984 727$ to over 15x more. The gains officially started in 1978, after Deng Xiao Ping’s economic reforms.

    Now that they’ve embraced this model, they have much more potential for success. Mass-educational policies were adopted, with the college educated rising 5% from 2000 to 2010, 3.5% to 8.5%.

    Such gains are likely to continue because the population as a whole DO have higher IQ than most other countries. Once the economics come in, the reasoning holds that more of the population will be educated and there will be transition to more specialized roles, which is a more efficient use of IQ and so on.

    The conclusion holds that yes, as others have noted, the organization and society kept them back. Controlling for that, the IQ will eventually come to dominate.

    While I wouldn’t call it a “strong IQ theory,” the IQ is likely to account for >50% of success in a stable country like America.

    In a controlled country (America), with ethnically diverse groups, and education till 18 (any more depends largely on scholastic ability):

    Blacks 85, Latinos 89, Whites 100, Asians 106
    Note 15 points represent a standard deviation; see the 68-95-99.7 rule. These six deviations represent 99.7% of the population.
    They correlate accurately to income, arguably society’s best measure of your value, and intrinsically liked to every other factor IN society:
    Mean: 40k, 45k, 65k, and 78k

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    its funny for you to think most inventions are from the west. next time you write on a oiece of paper, know that tjis was copied technologt from the chinese.

    next time you open an unbrella (the modern foldable one), know that it was invented by tje chinese 1800 yeara ago and copied by the british in the 17-18th century after trade w china.

    next you cisit the bank, know that the first modern bank in the worls and first modern national bank was invented in china 1000 years ago (approx when the normans came to dominate britain.

    modern triggers, gunpowders, dual action oistons, the number 0, the first furnace bellow, fiest nationalised examinations system, first bureaucratic civil service, first paper money, first textile weaving machineries, first producers of silk, first multistage rocket and first dezcription of blood as thephysiological basis of our body’s function and first accurate preidiction of solar eclipses, first book in the world, first mechnaical timekeeping device, first country w succeasful agricultural revolution, first massive water canal construction (the Grand Canal), tc were all chinese.

    in fact the chinese wrote the first histories of the koreans and japanese who did not have alanguage at the time. the reason why you do not know this is because of the short albeit prolific rise of the west onky in the recent 300 years. the chinese have been around even before Rome was a kingdom and before the Birth of Socrates. so it is a bit funny to hear you mention this as you will find that many of the things you use today are chinese inventions. hell, even the toilet paper you use today was invented by the chinese

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The differences in IQ could be due to availability of street drugs and other recreational narcotics such as marijuana that can lower IQ. Especially in China, narcotics laws are much more strictly enforced unlike in Europe and the United States. Secondhand tobacco smoke is known to affect child development, but secondhand marijuana smoke probably affects child development more.

    There is a big difference in societal attitudes. This is exemplified by the drama surrounding the execution of British citizen Akmal Shaikh in 2009 for narcotics trafficking under the Chinese judicial system. The difference in societal attitudes suggests that the winner of the Opium Wars was China rather than the British. Although a military defeat for China, having a national history of narcotics prohibition beginning with a ‘war on drugs’ paved the way to a national consciousness of the evils of drug addiction. Although a military victory for the UK, having a national history of royalty sponsored drug trafficking was a great moral loss for the British leading to the demise of a once great empire and now the current pervasive and permissive drug culture. The moral failure of the British is still being felt today. While Prime Minister Gordon Brown advoactes for leniency against crazy (mentally ill) drug dealers, as of 2007 Britain has worst drug addiction rate in Europe.

    On the other hand, the original purveyor of ‘just say no to drugs’ Lin Zexu, is now a national hero and his letter to the Queen defining the national consciousness of China, stating “We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. Yet there are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?” —Lin Zexu, Open letter addressed to the sovereign of England and published in Canton (1839).

    The current ‘war on drugs’ in the United States has been difficult to win because of a lack of resolve given the history of our nation. If one of the issues in the American Revolutionary War with the British had been over narcotics importation, it would be easier to muster sufficient resolve to win the current ‘war on drugs’. Instead it appears that drug legalization may prevail. Drug dealers are rarely executed in the United States compared to China and only decades after they commit murder. More recently, Carroll Joe Parr was executed in Texas on May 7, 2013 for killing a fellow drug dealer in 2003. It appears that even in Texas, the death penalty is reserved for violent crimes and drug dealers are not executed until a decade after they commit murder.

    Many of the ‘low IQ’ listed Eastern European nations have serious drug problems and governmental corruption makes it difficult to correct. It appears to me that cultural differences account for the difference in IQ. Some cultures have a very permissive attitude toward drug abuse and drug dealers.

    Hypothesis: It’s kind of hard for a kid to do well on an IQ test if they are burdened by narcotics addiction in their family.

  13. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:


    You lecture us about ancient Chinese inventions, all while using the West’s electricity, computer and Internet, really ?

    Everything you wrote not only ignores the comparable achievements of Ancient Greece, ROME, Medieval Europe and the Renaissance, but it has been completely obliterated by the Industrial Revolution and our contemporary Digital Age. The West has been into space and walked on the Moon, for God’s sake !

    This is 2013 and the modern world you live in today is overwhelmingly Western and has rendered ancient China obsolete. Think about that next time you use all these little conveniences like electrical power, running water, flushing toilet, central heat, air conditioning, radio, television, telephone, refrigerator, washing machine, car, train, plane, GPS, cell phone, pharmaceutics, and check yourself in a modern hospital for an emergency, ok ?

    Talk about clueless !

  14. Arun says:

    Perhaps material deprivation has not reduced social status in those Asian societies and social status may influence IQ?

  15. Jess says:

    I laughed out loud at Kirk’s comment. Thats a nice little list you made, let me you show you mine Kirk.

    There is no country in the world that has invented more than England, and thats not even including Scottish inventions. Alone England destroys all countries, together with Scotland its a complete and utter domination.

    Everything you use in your daily life from computers, televisions, telephones. You name it, to theories that basicaly dominate the world view such as Evolution came from Brits.

    Britain alone has outinvented every single country and Ancient Civilization. If we were to add France with them, it would be straight overkill on the European side.

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Why should anyone to analyse statistic samples of hundreds for 100 millions, or billions of populations?

  17. Anonymous [AKA "Circ"] says:

    Westerners and East Asians tend to have IQs around 100 or higher because their cultures originated respectively in ancient Greece and China. The philosophies of both civilizations are secular and humanist, meaning they recognize reason and free will. Both underpin the modern world’s greatest achievements: science and democracy. All developed nations belong to either Western or East Asian culture.

    The cultures of developing nations like those in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia tend to have much lower IQs because of animism. Animism is the oldest religion and animistic cultures tend to be dogmatic and fatalist, which hinders development. Islamic civilization was once based on Greek philosophy during its Golden Age, but it has since abandoned philosophy. Muslim societies are now steeped in occasionalism and voluntarism, denying reason and free will.

    India’s caste system is slowly breaking down as a result of democracy and the country will likely rival Western and East Asian countries in the future.

    The takeaway is that for any civilization to raise its average IQ and prosper, it must embrace reason, free will, philosophy, science, democracy, secularism, humanism, and the idea of progress.

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