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Race/IQ: the Rural/Urban Divide
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TAC-RaceIQ As I have recently mentioned to several people, I had been aware of the large anomalies and logical inconsistences in the Lynn/Vanhanen IQ model for nearly a decade, and had repeatedly pointed them out on various Internet discussion forums. But since nobody ever paid the slightest attention to what I was saying, I finally decided to write up and publish my Race, IQ, and Wealth.

However, although 80% of my piece consisted merely of setting down in print what I already had long known, I did make some fascinating additional discoveries, the most significant being the seemingly enormous impact of rural/urban conditions upon the tested IQ of white European populations.

As I noted, one very intriguing pattern is that according to Lynn’s IQ data certain European populations such as the South Italians, Irish, Greeks, and South Slavs tended to have IQs much lower than other European populations such as the British and the Dutch. However, according to the Wordsum-IQ data, this pattern is exactly reversed in the United States, with the descendents of immigrants from Southern Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Yugoslavia having much higher IQs than Americans of British or Dutch ancestry. If IQ were largely genetic, this would seem almost inexplicable, but patterns of urbanization might be the obvious explanation: Southern Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Yugoslavia were traditionally far more rural than Britain or the Netherlands, but in America the pattern of ethnic settlement is exactly reversed, with Dutch-Americans and British-Americans being far more rural than those other groups. [erratum: in this paragraph “British” should be replace by “German”]

Next, consider the aggregate IQs of rural and urban/suburban whites. During the 1970s according to Wordsum-IQ data, the intelligence gap between whites raised on farms and those who grew up in an urban/suburban background was enormous, almost exactly equal to the white/black gap. The data would indicate that a non-trivial slice of the white farmboys of the 1970s suffered from clinical mental retardation, which seems quite implausible.

Furthermore, if IQ were genetic, we might tend to expect rural white IQs to slightly drop over time, as many of the most intelligent and ambitious whites moved away to the Big City each generation, leaving their dimmer relatives behind. Instead, we discover the exact opposite effect. The Wordsum-IQ of urban/suburban whites remained almost exactly constant between the 1970s and the 2000s, while the scores for whites from a farming background increased rapidly, thereby eliminating one-third of the overall gap. In effect, urban/suburban whites showed no Flynn Effect, while whites on farms showed a very sizable one. One very plausible explanation would be that the increasing presence of TV and other modern technologies in rural areas greatly improved the “cognitive development environment” for rural whites, thereby raising their IQ scores, while urban/suburban whites had already possessed such an environment and gained little.


Finally, let us consider the European evidence. Today, the international PISA academic tests are widely regarded as one of the best means of estimating national IQs, and if we consider the 2009 PISA scores, we find that the scores were extremely similar for Ireland, Poland, Britain, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and several other countries. Since Lynn standardizes the British IQ to 100, that indicates that Ireland and Poland today have IQs around 100, which seems quite plausible.

However, a huge sample placed Ireland’s IQ at 87 in 1972, and Lynn himself has stated that his own Ireland research in the late 1960s convinced him that the Irish were a low IQ population, whose only hope for the future lay in a strong eugenics program. So the evidence indicates that the Irish IQ was around 87 at that point, and has risen nearly a full standard deviation in the four decades which followed. Lynn also provides two additional very large samples, which placed the Irish IQ at around 92 in the early 1990s, so at the half-way mark, the Irish IQ had risen by half the difference between the endpoints, which seems remarkably consistent.

Obviously, for the Irish to raise their Flynn-adjusted IQ by nearly a full standard devision in just over one generation is a total absurdity from a genetic perspective; thus, the huge rise must be due to some class of “environmental” factors. When we consider that Ireland had been one of most rural European countries and rapidly urbanized during exactly that period, the impact of urbanization seems a plausible possibility.

Also consider Poland, another very rural European country that also urbanized during those same decades. The largest European IQ sample found anywhere in Lynn establishes the Polish IQ as having been 92 in 1989, very close to the Irish IQ around the same time. And as mentioned above, the PISA score indicate that Poland’s IQ is around 100 today, seeming to demonstrate an IQ rise very similar to that of Ireland.

The most heavily rural countries in Europe include Portugal, Lithuania, Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, and other parts of the Balkans, and according to Lynn’s data, these also tend to have the lowest national IQs. Meanwhile, Australia has always been heavily urbanized and although as much as one-third of Australians have Irish ancestry, Australia’s mean IQ had always been very close to 100, even when Ireland was at 87. Since per capita GDPs tend to follow a strong rural/urban pattern, this may explain a large portion of Lynn’s wealth/IQ correlation within Europe.

On the other hand, this urban/rural IQ pattern is totally absent in East Asian populations, whose IQs seem almost entirely unaffected by even the most massive trends of urbanization. This has led me to suggest that for some unknown, possibly biological reason, East Asians can achieve nearly their full IQ potential without requiring the same beneficial “cognitive development environment” which white Europeans seem to require.

Obviously, this data does not conclusively establish my rural/urban hypothesis regarding the extreme environmental malleability of white IQs. But it does constitute a massive amount of hard empirical data which seems to totally contradict “the Strong IQ Hypothesis.” Those who believe in the rigid genetic nature of IQ should be required to propose some equally successful alternative explanation for these remarkable patterns.


In the week following its release, my Race/IQ article has already produced an enormous amount of vigorous commentary across the Internet, with links to several of the most recent examples provided below.

Ron Unz and IQ, HBD Chick

No Mexican Flynn Effect (or Ron Unz is no longer credible), Occidentalist

No Exception, Occidentalist

Hispanic Performance by Generation, Occidentalist

Unfortunately, this discussion has been almost entirely restricted to narrow racialist circles, with virtually all non-racialist journalists or pundits maintaining a studious silence on the matter and giving the controversy a very wide berth, although I would argue that issues of race and intelligence have considerable importance in American society. As a consequence of this silence, the debate has been enormously one-sided, with perhaps 95% of the bloggers and commenters disputing my analysis, with varying degrees of knowledge, accuracy, and civility.

For example, one of the most energetic IQ-racialists characterized my analysis as “egregiously dishonest” and “laughable commentary”—calumnies which were widely propagated all across the Internet—before rechecking his own calculations, and then grudgingly conceding that “on re-analysis, Ron Unz’s claim concerning the difference in the GSS sample was upheld”. Similar harsh denunciations of my article have been typical across the hundreds of websites which Google indicates have taken notice of the debate.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps it would be a serious mistake for mainstream journalists or analysts to even take notice of this controversial subject, but I tend to disagree with this approach. As I have previously mentioned, Google indicates that there exist some 103,000 web pages already discussing the theories of Lynn and Vanhanen, and the overwhelming majority of these seem extremely laudatory. To the extent that the Lynn/Vanhanen IQ analysis is contradicted by strong evidence, this should probably be brought to wider attention, lest casual observers tend to naively assume that Lynn and Vanhanen are factually correct although politically-incorrect.

Furthermore, I would suggest that my own hypothesis regarding rural/urban factors might have potentially important policy implications for American society. Daniel Golden’s book The Price of Admission has thoroughly documented the often corrupt admissions practices followed by our leading universities, which largely select America’s future national elites in academics, finance, media, and politics. As he indicates, one of the few meritocratic and non-corrupt aspects of college admissions is the reliance on standardized tests such as the SAT, which supposedly assess actual intellectual ability; the SAT has a high 0.81 correlation with IQ.

However, if my above rural/urban IQ analysis is correct, then the SAT would tend to substantially underestimate the ability of rural students, even aside from their lack of access to SAT coaching or prep courses, with the error perhaps approaching 100 SAT points. Given that rural students are already heavily under-represented in the Ivy League and other elite colleges, perhaps this possibility should receive proper consideration.

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

    Although I’ve been skeptical of your earlier articles in this series, I have to admit that this one is really interesting/thought-provoking (or, at least, makes clear to me how interesting your original article was in a way I was otherwise too slow to get). Keep it up!

  2. TomB says:

    So as to just summarize my comment to Unz’s last post about this I don’t understand why he doesn’t take his thinking and evidence to its logical conclusions.

    Just as there are people out there who reject the very concept of I.Q. or some general intelligence “g”, that is, there are hard core people who absolutely believe that such things independently exist in nature and that’s what they are measuring.

    Or in other words, they aren’t just making the “reification” mistake of thinking that because they’ve thought up a word or words for something (“I.Q.” or “g”) that it really exists when it doesn’t. And what they are testing is just some far more limited aspect of intelligence, which just happens to be responsible for something they have fooled themselves to believe is universalist but which is instead merely something like … the likely ability to succeed in a modern urban environment.

    So anyway Unz looks at I.Q. and “g” data and indeed hits on something amazing: Despite those things being thought to be genetic and almost impossible to effect, it turns out that when rural people move to urban environments their I.Q.’s and the I.Q.’s of their children shoot up amazingly.

    Well well well, one would think: What *better* evidence is there that indeed our concept of there actually being something like an “I.Q.” out there independently in nature in the human brain is faulty. That … we’ve just measured the part of human intelligence that’s all important to us at this mere time and place, and mistaken that it’s the totality of human intelligence.

    But no, Unz merely sort of hints at the doubts this casts on the existence of “I.Q.” or the concept that we can test a measurable “g.”

    Instead he just seems to say … oh our I.Q. tests understand the real intelligence of rural folks.

    Not that it’s bad what he’s saying. But why just stop where he’s stopped?

    My sense is the reverse of his observation about those people who deny with their dying breath that I.Q. has any validity at all. That is, Unz is sympathetic with what is no doubt a very intelligent hard-core of scientists who long ago came to believe in I.Q. and a measurable “g,” and see doubters as just purely ideologically driven.

    There’s a middle ground you know, Ron: Go where the evidence takes you. And to me you’re avoiding taking on those hard-core I.Q. and “g” believers.

    It’s understandable: They tend to be very smart pros and in the past the loudest doubters about I.Q. has been ideologists and loudmouths.

    But you still gotta go where the evidence seems to lead no matter what side that puts you on.

    So how come you ain’t a bigger I.Q./”g” doubter than you seem, Ron? Boy, oh boy, all those instances of populations gaining a full standard deviation in just one generation or two … what the hell *else* could that kind of thing mean?

  3. Before you start betting the farm on a “super Flynn effect” you should read, if you already have not, this paper by Wicherts about the the lack of measurement invariance between age cohorts:

    The lack of measurement invariance between two groups (e.g., age cohorts, racial groups, urban vs. rural students) implies that the scores of the two groups are not directly comparable. That is, they map differently to the latent attributes the tests are suppose to be measuring,

    You seem to understand this intuitively when you write:

    “if my above rural/urban IQ analysis is correct, then the SAT would tend to substantially underestimate the ability of rural students, even aside from their lack of access to SAT coaching or prep courses, with the error perhaps approaching 100 SAT points”

    Specifically you hypothesize that a 1500 SAT score of a rural corresponds to the latent ability of a urban student with a score of 1600. This can be tested but I do not know of any results.

    The lack of measurement invariance between age cohorts found by Wicherts makes very suspicious of your comparison of Mexican American scores over time.

  4. Shawn says:

    I am afraid that, in light of the copious amount of convincing research stemming from the separated at birth twin studies, the strong genetic hypothesis of IQ inheritance in overwhelmingly convincing.

  5. Unz’s thesis is well buttressed by the economic and historical data of conservative Thomas Sowell and others as to the process of urbanization. Hence blacks more heavily urbanized, even within just the south, post higher incomes, IQs and other such metrics than their rural counterparts. Such data have been around a long time. It is telling that they are so often ignored or waved away in the knee jerk rush to condemn Unz because he does not hew to the racialist party line of “the faithful.” See Sowell’s 1970s ‘Essays and Data on American Ethnic Groups” just for starters. Kudos to Unz for letting the data speak for themselves, unpopular as this may be. And they do speak, undermining the all too sweeping, even messianic pronouncements of those claiming to know “the truth.”

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