Tag Archives: Child Poverty

Poverty: Socioeconomics vs IQ – The Bell Curve

About 6 weeks ago I started posting data from the book, “The Bell Curve.”  The first portion of the book deals with various conditions, poverty, education, crime and so on that take place in our society.  And more than just look and detail those conditions, the authors try and look at what might cause some of those conditions.  The point being that a vast majority of today’s commentators on such matters blame the socioeconomic conditions of families for the unfortunate plight many of our citizens find themselves in today.

Having problems graduating high school?  Check and see if the kid is from a poor family.

Mothers raising children in poverty?  Check and see of that mother herself came form a poor family.

Individuals in jail?  Check and see if those folks came from a poor family.

And the evidence is there that such an impact exists.  But is there another, stronger variable that impacts these conditions?  The author’s answer is, “Yes.  And that variable is IQ.”

Let’s review the first set of data I showed back then.  The first set of data shows the probability that an individual will be living below the poverty line in 1989, the data the study used:

The next set of data shows the probability that a child will be living below the poverty line in 1989 when her mother is married:

And the third set of data shows that same probability for that same child if her mother is single.

The data has an uncomfortable, but not surprising trend, to be born wealthy is better than being born in poverty.  However, here the authors, as I mentioned, looked for additional variables.  Specifically IQ.  Look at the data with the socioeconomic status AND the IQ included in the same graph.

Let’s go down the line starting with the probability of living in poverty:

The difference is dramatic.  Not only does having a very low IQ put you at significant risk of living in poverty compared to having a very low SES background, but being very intelligent is more important than being very wealthy.

Next we look at children of married mothers living in poverty and the impact that her SES and IQ have:

While the dramatic difference in the values isn’t the same, the pattern is.  A mother having everything else considered who is less intelligent has a higher probability of raising her children in poverty than an equally neutral mother of higher intelligence.

Finally, the probability of children of single mothers living in poverty and the impact that her SES and IQ have:

Right back to the dramatic difference.  What looked like an impacting variable before, SES clearly now has the appearance of having a minimal effect on raising children in poverty.  Rather IQ dominates this condition for children of single mothers.  Those children lucky enough to be born to the brightest of mothers have a 1/7th the chance of living in poverty compared to those children whose mothers score on the very lowest on IQ tests.

Clearly, as it relates to poverty and child poverty, IQ is the runaway variable when compared to SES.


Poverty: Socioeconomic Impacts – The Bell Curve

I’m reading “The Bell Curve” and am finding the book fascinating.  As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic:

That attaining wealth is more and more becoming reserved for the pre-existing well to do’s.

For a long time I’ve fought this belief.  I’ve fought the idea that America is not the land of opportunity.  That we’ve somehow lost the idea that if you work hard enough you can do anything.

I’ve fought it.

And now I’m reading a book, The Bell Curve, and I’ve seen some interesting data.  For example, it seems to be important where you come from if you wanna avoid poverty:

As I continue to make my way through the book, there is good data that reinforces the above statement.  Namely, where you come from, or who you are born to, impacts where you will end up.  Consider the white population:

I can only estimate the data above, the book doesn’t provide exact numbers, but you can see that as parental SES goes from 2 standard deviations below the mean to 2 standard deviations above the mean, the chance that an individual finds themselves in poverty is reduced.  In fact, if you look at the numbers, the families at the far poor end of the scale have almost three times the chance to produce poor children than the very well off families at the other end.

What if we dig deeper in the data?  What happens if we look at the probability that a child lives in poverty?  How does socioeconomic status impact that?

Well, it turns out that the data is divided.  For example, consider married white mothers:


It turns out that that being a married mother helps reduce the chance of childhood poverty.  Reduces but only slightly.  However, what is interesting is that the impact of a higher socioeconomic parent is magnified.  In the general public, a higher parental SES ranking meant that an adult had 1/3 the chance of ending up in poverty.  For children, it’s much more dramatic.

For a child, having parents in the lowest SES class means that poverty is ~5.5 times as likely than if that child came from parents in the highest SES rankings.  That is, kids from the most well of parents suffer poverty at rates of about 2%.  Kids from the least well off suffer poverty at rates of about 11%.

Now for the shocker.  Let’s look at single white mothers:


Kids of white mothers that are either separated, divorced o r never married suffer massively higher rates of poverty than mothers of kids who are married.  But again, for the sake of this specific conversation, the socioeconomic ranking of the parents is meaningful.  Parents who rank at the very low end raise kids who have approximately a 39% chance of being in poverty.  Mothers who are in the top ranks of socioeconomic ranking?  Their kids only have about a 30% chance of living in poverty, almost a 33% less chance.

The data is hard to argue with.  The “well off-ness” of the parents seems to have a powerful impact on the chance of poverty of a child.