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November 12, 2013

July 31, 2012

Equilibration of attitudes toward divorce

Filed under: Divorce,Social Science,Social statistics — Razib Khan @ 7:05 am

One thing that people occasionally mention in the comments on this weblog is that it seems futile to be “conservative” because the arrow of history goes in one direction. Even many conservatives, including myself, have fallen into this assumption. But upon a closer inspection of history I think we need to be careful about this, as the truth can sometimes confound our coarse models. For example, I strongly suspect that when it comes to love and marriage the realized element of individual liberty has not had a monotonic trajectory over human history. More plainly, free choice declined over the past 10,000 years, and has reemerged in the past few centuries. Whether this is liberal or conservative is less relevant than that it shows that attitudes, beliefs, and practices, do not always change in magnitude in one direction, only at different rates. More recently, sexual mores in the West shifted to a more puritanical direction between 1750 and 1900, only to switch back to a more relaxed attitude over the 20th century (with a punctuated shift in the 1960s).

And these sorts of trends are evident even over a shorter time scale. So it may be with attitudes toward divorce. One ...

January 25, 2012

Classicists are smart!

Filed under: Data Analysis,GRE,Intelligence,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 4:15 am

The post below on teachers elicited some strange responses. Its ultimate aim was to show that teachers are not as dull as the average education major may imply to you. Instead many people were highly offended at the idea that physical education teachers may not be the sharpest tools in the shed due to their weak standardized test scores. On average. It turns out that the idea of average, and the reality of variation, is so novel that unless you elaborate in exquisite detail all the common sense qualifications, people feel the need to emphasize exceptions to the rule. For example, over at Fark:

Apparently what had happened was this: He played college football. He majored in math, minored in education. When he went to go get a job, he took it as a math teacher. When the football coach retired/quit, he took over. When funding for an advance computer class was offered, he said he could teach it after he got the certs – he easily got them within a month.

So the anecdote here is a math teacher who also coached. Obviously the primary issue happens to be physical education teachers who become math teachers! (it happened to me, and it happened to other readers apparently) In the course of double checking the previous post I found some more interesting GRE numbers. You remember the post where I analyzed and reported on GRE scores by intended graduate school concentration? It was a very popular post (for example, philosophy departments like it because it highlights that people who want to study philosophy have very strong GRE scores).

As it happens the table which I reported on is relatively coarse. ETS has a much more fine-grained set of results. Want to know how aspiring geneticists stack up against aspiring ecologists? Look no further! There are a lot of disciplines. I wanted to focus on the ones of interest to me, and I limited them to cases where the N was 100 or greater (though many of these have N’s in the thousands).

You’re going to have to click the image to make out where the different disciplines are. But wait! First I need to tell you what I did. I looked at the average verbal and mathematical score for each discipline. Then I converted them to standard deviation units away from the mean. This is useful because there’s an unfortunate compression and inflation on the mathematical scores. Disciplines which are stronger in math are going to have a greater average because the math averages are higher all around. You can see that I divided the chart into quadrants. There are no great surprises. People who want to pursue a doctorate in physical education are in the bottom left quadrant. Sorry. As in my previous post physicists, economists, and philosophers do rather well. But there were some surprises at the more detailed scale. Historians of science, and those graduate students who wish to pursue classics or classical languages are very bright. Budding historians of science have a relatively balanced intellectual profile, and the strongest writing scores of any group except for philosophers. I think I know why: many of these individuals have a science background, but later became interested in history. They are by nature relatively broad generalists. I have no idea why people drawn to traditionally classical fields are bright, but I wonder if it is because these are not “sexy” domains, to the point where you have to have a proactive interest in the intellectual enterprise.

I also wanted to compare aggregate smarts to intellectual balance. In the plot to the right on the x-axis you have the combined value of math and verbal scores in standard deviation units. A negative value indicates lower values combined, and a positive value higher. Obviously though you can have a case where two disciplines have the same average, but the individual scores differ a lot. So I wanted to compare that with the difference between the two scores. You can see then in the plot that disciplines like classics are much more verbal, while engineering is more mathematical. Physical scientists tend to be more balanced and brighter than engineers. Interestingly linguists have a different profile than other social scientists, and cognitive psych people don’t cluster with others in their broader field. Economists are rather like duller physicists. Which makes sense since many economists are washed out or bored physicists. And political science and international relations people don’t stack up very well against the economists. Perhaps this is the source of the problem whereby economists think they’re smarter than they are? Some humility might be instilled if economics was always put in the same building as physics.

In regards to my own field of interest, the biological sciences, not too many surprises. As you should expect biologists are not as smart as physicists or chemists, but there seems to be two clusters, with a quant and verbal bias. This somewhat surprised me. I didn’t expect ecology to be more verbal than genetics! And much respect to the neuroscience people, they’re definitely the smartest biologists in this data set (unless you count biophysicists!). I think that points to the fact that neuroscience is sucking up a lot of talent right now.

The main caution I would offer is that converting to standard deviation units probably means that I underweighted the mathematical fields in their aptitudes, because such a large fraction max out at a perfect 800. That means you can’t get the full range of the distribution and impose an artificial ceiling. In any case, the raw data in the table below. SDU = standard deviation units.


Field V-mean M-mean V-SDU M-SDU Average-SDU Difference-SDU
Anatomy 443 568 -0.16 -0.11 -0.13 -0.05
Biochemistry 486 669 0.20 0.56 0.38 -0.36
Biology 477 606 0.13 0.15 0.14 -0.02
Biophysics 523 727 0.51 0.95 0.73 -0.43
Botany 513 626 0.43 0.28 0.35 0.15
Cell & Mol Bio 497 658 0.29 0.49 0.39 -0.20
Ecology 535 638 0.61 0.36 0.49 0.26
Develop Bio 490 623 0.24 0.26 0.25 -0.02
Entomology 505 606 0.36 0.15 0.25 0.22
Genetics 496 651 0.29 0.44 0.36 -0.16
Marine Biology 499 611 0.31 0.18 0.24 0.13
Microbiology 482 615 0.17 0.21 0.19 -0.04
Neuroscience 533 665 0.60 0.54 0.57 0.06
Nutrition 432 542 -0.25 -0.28 -0.27 0.03
Pathology 468 594 0.05 0.07 0.06 -0.02
Pharmacology 429 634 -0.28 0.33 0.03 -0.61
Physiology 464 606 0.02 0.15 0.08 -0.13
Toxicology 465 610 0.03 0.17 0.10 -0.15
Zoology 505 609 0.36 0.17 0.26 0.20
Other Biology 473 626 0.09 0.28 0.19 -0.19
Chemistry, Gen 483 681 0.18 0.64 0.41 -0.47
Chemistry, Analytical 464 652 0.02 0.45 0.23 -0.43
Chemistry, Inorganic 502 690 0.34 0.70 0.52 -0.37
Chemistry, Organic 490 683 0.24 0.66 0.45 -0.42
Chemistry, Pharm 429 647 -0.28 0.42 0.07 -0.69
Chemistry, Physical 513 708 0.43 0.82 0.62 -0.39
Chemistry, Other 477 659 0.13 0.50 0.31 -0.37
Computer Programming 407 681 -0.46 0.64 0.09 -1.10
Computer Science 453 702 -0.08 0.78 0.35 -0.86
Information Science 446 621 -0.13 0.25 0.06 -0.38
Atmospheric Science 490 673 0.24 0.59 0.41 -0.35
Environ Science 493 615 0.26 0.21 0.23 0.06
Geochemistry 514 657 0.44 0.48 0.46 -0.05
Geology 495 625 0.28 0.27 0.27 0.01
Geophysics 487 676 0.21 0.61 0.41 -0.40
Paleontology 531 621 0.58 0.25 0.41 0.33
Meteology 470 663 0.07 0.52 0.30 -0.46
Epidemiology 485 610 0.19 0.17 0.18 0.02
Immunology 492 662 0.25 0.52 0.38 -0.26
Nursing 452 531 -0.08 -0.35 -0.22 0.27
Actuarial Science 460 726 -0.02 0.94 0.46 -0.96
Applied Math 487 730 0.21 0.97 0.59 -0.76
Mathematics 523 740 0.51 1.03 0.77 -0.52
Probability & Stats 486 728 0.20 0.95 0.58 -0.75
Math, Other 474 715 0.10 0.87 0.48 -0.77
Astronomy 525 706 0.53 0.81 0.67 -0.28
Astrophysics 540 727 0.66 0.95 0.80 -0.29
Atomic Physics 522 739 0.50 1.03 0.77 -0.52
Nuclear Physicsl 506 715 0.37 0.87 0.62 -0.50
Optics 495 729 0.28 0.96 0.62 -0.68
Physics 540 743 0.66 1.05 0.85 -0.40
Planetary Science 545 694 0.70 0.73 0.71 -0.03
Solid State Physics 514 743 0.44 1.05 0.74 -0.62
Physics, Other 519 723 0.48 0.92 0.70 -0.44
Chemical Engineering 490 729 0.24 0.96 0.60 -0.72
Civil Engineering 456 705 -0.05 0.80 0.38 -0.85
Computer Engineering 465 716 0.03 0.87 0.45 -0.85
Electrical Engineering 465 722 0.03 0.91 0.47 -0.89
Industrial Engineering 426 699 -0.30 0.76 0.23 -1.06
Operations Research 483 743 0.18 1.05 0.61 -0.88
Materials Science 509 728 0.39 0.95 0.67 -0.56
Mechanical Engineering 471 721 0.08 0.91 0.49 -0.83
Aerospace Engineering 498 725 0.30 0.93 0.62 -0.63
Biomedical Engineering 504 717 0.35 0.88 0.62 -0.53
Nuclear Engineering 500 720 0.32 0.90 0.61 -0.58
Petroleum Engineering 414 676 -0.40 0.61 0.10 -1.01
Anthropology 532 562 0.59 -0.15 0.22 0.73
Economics 508 707 0.39 0.81 0.60 -0.43
International Relations 531 588 0.58 0.03 0.30 0.55
Political Science 523 574 0.51 -0.07 0.22 0.58
Clinical Psychology 484 554 0.18 -0.20 -0.01 0.38
Cognitive Psychology 532 627 0.59 0.28 0.44 0.30
Community Psychology 441 493 -0.18 -0.60 -0.39 0.43
Counseling Psychology 444 500 -0.15 -0.56 -0.35 0.41
Developmental Psychology 476 563 0.12 -0.14 -0.01 0.26
Psychology 476 546 0.12 -0.25 -0.07 0.37
Quantitative Psychology 515 629 0.45 0.30 0.37 0.15
Social Psychology 518 594 0.47 0.07 0.27 0.40
Sociology 490 541 0.24 -0.28 -0.02 0.52
Criminal Justice/Criminology 418 477 -0.37 -0.71 -0.54 0.34
Art history 536 549 0.62 -0.23 0.20 0.85
Music History 536 596 0.62 0.08 0.35 0.54
Drama 514 541 0.44 -0.28 0.08 0.72
Music History 490 559 0.24 -0.17 0.03 0.40
Creative Writing 553 540 0.76 -0.29 0.24 1.06
Classical Language 619 633 1.32 0.32 0.82 0.99
Russian 584 611 1.03 0.18 0.60 0.85
American History 533 541 0.60 -0.28 0.16 0.88
European History 554 555 0.77 -0.19 0.29 0.97
History of Science 596 661 1.13 0.51 0.82 0.62
Philosophy 591 630 1.08 0.30 0.69 0.78
Classics 609 616 1.24 0.21 0.72 1.02
Comp Lit 591 588 1.08 0.03 0.56 1.06
Linguistics 566 630 0.87 0.30 0.59 0.57
Elementary Education 438 520 -0.20 -0.42 -0.31 0.22
Early Childhood Education 420 497 -0.35 -0.58 -0.46 0.22
Secondary Education 484 576 0.18 -0.05 0.07 0.24
Special Education 424 497 -0.32 -0.58 -0.45 0.26
Physical Education 389 487 -0.61 -0.64 -0.63 0.03
Finance 466 721 0.03 0.91 0.47 -0.87
Business Adminstraiton 434 570 -0.24 -0.09 -0.16 -0.14
Communication 458 517 -0.03 -0.44 -0.24 0.41
Theology 537 583 0.63 -0.01 0.31 0.64
Social Work 428 463 -0.29 -0.80 -0.54 0.52

December 21, 2011

The arc of primate social evolution

A new paper in Nature, Stepwise evolution of stable sociality in primates, was written up in The New York Times with the provocative title, Genes Play Major Role in Primate Social Behavior, Study Finds. As noted in Joan Silk’s article on the paper it should really be phylogenetics play major role in primate social behavior. The model outlined in the paper indicates that phylogenetic relationships between major primate clades is a much better predictor of social organization and structure than simple adaptation to a specific environment, or a linear increase in social organization (group size) over time. Both of these latter dynamics would also be driven by genetic changes, and therefore tie “genes” to social behavior. In other words, genes always matter, it’s just how they matter that differs. Here’s the section of the abstract of the paper of major interest:

… Here we present a model of primate social evolution, whereby sociality progresses from solitary foraging individuals directly to large multi-male/multi-female aggregations (approximately 52 million years (Myr) ago), with pair-living (approximately 16 Myr ago) or single-male harem systems (approximately 16 Myr ago) derivative from this second stage. This model fits the data significantly better than the two widely accepted alternatives (an unstructured model implied by the socioecological hypothesis or a model that allows linear stepwise changes in social complexity through time). We also find strong support for the co-evolution of social living with a change from nocturnal to diurnal activity patterns, but not with sex-biased dispersal….

I read the “letter,” but the reality is that this is one of those papers where you have to read the supplements to get a real sense of what is going on. I haven’t as of this moment, though I invite readers to browse through them and get back with their own assessment of the model. Broadly, I don’t object to the inference generated here…but I do wonder if the transition between the human-chimp ancestor and later hominins is to some extent sui generis. I have suggested that modern humans were “inevitable” after ~2 million years before the present, but I don’t think there was anything inevitable before that period. The overall point of the paper is that history and contingency matter a great deal, which to me implies that we should be cautious about making specific judgments of positions along the phylogenetic tree derived from what we gather from the whole….

August 26, 2011

The less intelligent more likely to accept astrology as scientific

Filed under: Astrology,GSS,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 12:00 am

Over at Culture of Science Sheril Kirshenbaum posts a figure from the NSF displaying what proportion of those without high school educations and those with college educations accept the scientific status of astrology. It’s pretty clear to me that this is the ASTROSCI variable from the General Social Survey. It asks:

Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?

It’s also nice that this question was only asked in the latter half of the 2000s. So it’s timely in terms of demographic breakdowns. Speaking of which, here are a whole host of classes and their attitudes toward astrology’s scientific status:

Very scientific Sort of scientific Not at all scientific Male 5 26 69 Female 5 30 65 Age 18-34 8 34 58 Age 35-64 4 26 70 Age 65- 4 24 72 White 4 25 72 Black 11 38 51 Hispanic 8 40 51 Extreme liberal 7 31 62 Liberal 5 30 65 Slightly iberal 4 28 68 Moderate 5 34 61 Slightly conservative 5 25 70 Conservative 6 19 75 Extreme conservative 6 18 76 No high school diploma 9 41 50 High school diploma 7 32 62 Junior college 4 28 68 Bachelor 2 17 80 Graduate degree 1 13 85 Atheist and agnostic 6 23 71 Higher power 4 28 68 Believes in god sometimes 7 24 70 Believe in god, but with doubts 4 27 69 Know god exists 6 30 65 Protestant 5 27 68 Catholic 5 31 64 Jewish 6 16 78 No religion 7 28 65 Bible word of god 6 31 64 Bible inspired word of god 5 28 67 Bible book of fables 6 25 70 Human beings developed from animals 6 28 66 Human beings don’t develop from animals 5 26 69

But what about intelligence? To look at that I used the WORDSUM variable, which is a 10-question vocabulary test which has a 0.70 correlation with IQ. Below are the attitudes toward astrology by WORDSUM score (0 = 0 ...

May 28, 2011

Loose vs. tight societies

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Cultural Differences,Culture,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 1:23 pm

ResearchBlogging.orgA new paper in Science, Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study, is making the media rounds. Here’s NPR:

…The idea for this study really dates to the 1960s. Back then, an anthropologist decided to evaluate a few dozen obscure cultures and see if he could rank them on a scale from “tight” to “loose.” He defined tight cultures as having a lot of rules, which people violate at their peril. Loose cultures are more relaxed in their expectations, and more forgiving of people who deviate.

The Tightness Scale

“So for example, you might have been asked, how appropriate is it to curse in the bank or kiss in a public park, or eat or read a newspaper in a classroom? And we were able to derive scores of how constrained, in general situations, they are, versus how much they have latitude in different countries.”

“Some of the cultures that are quite tight in our sample include places like Singapore, Japan, Pakistan,” Gelfand says. “Whereas many loose societies include countries like New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United States.”

The abstract from the paper is a little harder to parse:

With data from 33 nations, we ...

May 19, 2011

Fixing science, in part

Filed under: philosophy,Psychology,science,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 1:32 pm

The GiveWell Blog has some suggestions for “Suggestions for the Social Sciences”. Here is the big one:

Our single biggest concern when examining research is publication bias, broadly construed. We wonder both (a) how many studies are done, but never published because people don’t find the results interesting or in line with what they had hoped; (b) for a given paper, how many different interpretations of the data were assembled before picking the ones that make it into the final version.

The best antidote we can think of is pre-registration of studies along the lines ofClinicalTrials.gov, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. On that site, medical researchers announce their questions, hypotheses, and plans for collecting and analyzing data, and these are published before the data is collected and analyzed. If the results come out differently from what the researchers hope for, there’s then no way to hide this from a motivated investigator.

As the example of the NIH illustrates this is not just a social science problem, it is rife in any science which utilizes statistics. Statistical methods have become metrics to attain by any means necessary, when in reality they should be guidelines to get a ...

May 9, 2011

Men trust people more than women do

Filed under: Data Analysis,GSS,Social Science,Trust — Razib Khan @ 12:58 am

One of the weird things I randomly noticed when querying the “TRUST” variable in the GSS was that men were more trusting than women. I didn’t think much of that, but take a look at this logistic regression:

Trust in people, sample from after the year 2000 Logistic regression Variable All Non-Hispanic white B Probability B Probability SEX -0.340 0.000 -0.485 0.000 WORDSUM 0.176 0.000 0.201 0.000 DEGREE 0.343 0.000 0.274 0.000 COHORT -0.018 0.000 -0.013 0.001 SEI 0.002 0.393 0.003 0.394 POLVIEWS -0.105 0.011 -0.121 0.018 PARTYID 0.073 0.019 0.011 0.777 GOD -0.035 0.438 0.015 0.765 ATTEND 0.023 0.261 0.038 0.105 Pseduo R-square = 0.096 Pseduo R-square = 0.083

The outcomes are “can trust people = 1″ and “cannot trust people = 0.” I removed “depends” (which is never more than 5-10% in a class anyway). For sex 1 = male and 2 = female, so you can immediately see that being a woman will reduce the odds of being trusting. WORDSUM, vocabulary score, and educational attainment go in the direction you’d expect. Interestingly controlling for education doesn’t remove the vocabulary effect. COHORT is the year you were born. Lower values indicate older individuals in the data set. Younger people are less trusting, so this makes sense. To my surprise on the individual level religion doesn’t seem that important.

Since the sample sizes for sex are huge I thought I’d compare sex differences in trust over the years by demographic variable.

May 4, 2011

We, Robot & Hamilton’s Rule

The original robots

We are haunted by Hamilton. William D. Hamilton specifically, an evolutionary biologist who died before his time in 2000. We are haunted because debates about his ideas are still roiling the intellectual world over a decade after his passing. Last summer there was an enormous controversy over a paper which purported to refute the relevance of standard kin selection theory. You can find out more about the debate in this Boston Globe article, Where does good come from? If you peruse the blogosphere you’ll get a more one-sided treatment. So fair warning (I probably agree more with the loud side which dominates the blogosphere for what it’s worth on the science).

What was Hamilton’s big idea? In short he proposed to tackle the problem of altruism in social organisms. The biographical back story here is very rich. You can hear that story from the “horse’s mouth” in the autobiographical sketches which Hamilton wrote up for his series of books of collected papers, Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Evolution of Social Behaviour and Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Evolution of Sex. ...

April 20, 2011

Who “hearts” science among liberals

Filed under: Anti-Vaccination,science,Social Science,Vaccination,Woo — Razib Khan @ 1:34 pm

First, if it is clear that you haven’t read the post itself and leave a comment I won’t just not publish it, but I’ll ban you. Second, if you complain about this in the comments, I’ll ban you too. Now that you feel appropriately welcome, I want to explore some of the issues beneath Chris Mooney’s post, Vaccine Denial and the Left:

So I want to further explain my assertion that vaccine denial “largely occupies” the political left. It arises, basically, from my long familiarity with this issue, having read numerous books about it, etc.

First, it is certainly true that environmentalists and Hollywood celebrities have been the loudest proponents of anti-vaccine views. To me, that is evidence, although not necessarily definitive. So is the fact that we see dangerously large clusters of the unvaccinated in places like Ashland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, which are very leftwing cities.

What’s tricky is, there’s not a standard left-right political ideology underlying this. Rather, it seems more associated with a Whole Foods and au natural lifestyle that, while certainly more prominent on the bicoastal left, isn’t the same as being outraged by inequality or abuses of the free market.

This is a tricky issue. There is ...

February 10, 2011

Tiger mom for some, not for others

Filed under: Amy Chua,Social Science,Tiger moms — Razib Khan @ 3:36 pm

In a rumination on the “Tiger mom” phenomenon, Andrew Gelman suggests:

…Back when I taught at Berkeley and it was considered the #1 statistics department, a lot of my tenured colleagues seemed to have the attitude that their highest achievement in live was becoming a Berkeley statistics professor. Some of them spent decades doing mediocre work, but it didn’t seem to matter to them. After all, they were Tenured at Berkeley. Now, I’m not saying Chua is like that–in writing this book, she’s certainly not coasting on her academic reputation–but I do think it’s natural for someone in her position to define her success based on where she stands in the academic pecking order (and, for that matter, a best-selling popular book will help here too) rather than on her accomplishments for their own sake.

That is an unfortunate, and frankly, scary side effect of the way meritocracy sometimes works. Some people fixate more on the proxy measures than the underlying variable which it is intended to measure. I immediately recall two close friends who were going to graduate school M.I.T. and Harvard at the same time, and by an unfortunate coincidence they made the same complaints about their advisors: that ...

February 8, 2011

The academy is liberal, deal!

Filed under: Academic Bias,Ideology,Politics,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 1:02 pm

A new article in The New York Times, Social Scientist Sees Bias Within, profiles Jonathan Haidt’s quest to get some political diversity within social psychology. This means my post Is the Academy liberal?, is getting some links again. The data within that post is just a quantitative take on what anyone knows: the academy is by and large a redoubt of political liberals. To the left you see the ratio of liberals to conservatives for selected disciplines. Haidt points out that in the American public the ratio is 1:2 in the other direction, so it would be 0.50. He goes on to say that: “Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.” Haidt now calls himself a “centrist,” but you define yourself in part by the distribution around you. ...

December 16, 2010

Which nations think over the long term

One of the major parameters which shape individual success, and macroeconomic growth in the aggregate, is time preference. Time preference basically measures an individual’s future-time orientation. Would you for example take $1,000 in the present, or wait 30 days and accept $1,500 dollars? It doesn’t need to be money, children can exhibit time preference as well. Would you like one candy bar now? Or two candy bars in an hour? I also think time preference permeates our lives more concretely. Would you like to eat some greasy food now, or would you forgo epicurean pleasures in the present for a sleeker frame in the future?

Here’s an illustration of the correlates of time preference:

In one of the most amazing developmental studies ever conducted, Walter Michel of Stanford created a simple test of the ability of four year old children to control impulses and delay gratification. Children were taken one at a time into a room with a one-way mirror. They were shown a marshmallow. The experimenter told them he had to leave and that they could have the marshmallow right then, but if they waited for the experimenter to return from an errand, they could have two marshmallows. One marshmallow was left on a table in front of them. Some children grabbed the available marshmallow within seconds of the experimenter leaving. Others waited up to twenty minutes for the experimenter to return. In a follow-up study (Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990), children were tested at 18 years of age and comparisons were made between the third of the children who grabbed the marshmallow (the “impulsive”) and the third who delayed gratification in order to receive the enhanced reward (“impulse controlled”).

The third of the children who were most impulsive at four years of age scored an average of 524 verbal and 528 math. The impulse controlled students who scored 610 verbal and 652 math! This astounding 210 point total score difference on the SAT was predicted on the basis of a single observation at four years of age! The 210 point difference is as large as the average differences between that of economically advantaged versus disadvantaged children and is larger than the difference between children from families with graduate degrees versus children whose parents did not finish high school! At four years of age gobbling a marshmallow now v. waiting for two later is twice as good a predictor of later SAT scores than is IQ.

The issue of causality is probably one which you will immediately bring up. There is a correlation between higher IQ and low time preference (consuming less in the present to have a potential for more consumption in the future), but who knows how the feedback loops here work? For example, unlike many males my age I gave up playing video games around the age of 16. I calculated that I was substituting video games for reading, and that that would have long term consequences which I was not pleased with. Video games were very pleasurable in the short term, addictive even. But I decided that there simply were not enough hours in the day that I could do everything I needed to do, so I stopped playing them (I am aware that many, many, very smart people are avid video game enthusiasts. I’m just using it to illustrate the trade offs one might make). How much less erudite, as Dr. Dan MacArthur might say, would I be if I did continue to expend many hours per week on video games?

A new working paper on the SSRN website has some interesting data on time preference cross-culturally. How Time Preferences Differ: Evidence from 45 Countries:

We present results from the first large-scale international survey on time discounting, conducted in 45 countries. Cross-country variation cannot simply be explained by economic variables such as interest or inflation rates. In particular, we find strong evidence for cultural differences, as measured by the Hofstede cultural dimensions. For example, large levels of Uncertainty Avoidance are associated with strong hyperbolic discounting. We also find relations between time preferences and risk preferences, like loss aversion. For instance, subjects with high loss aversion tend to show larger time discounting. Moreover, our analysis shows an impact of time preferences on the capability of technological innovations in a country and on environmental protection.

To get published in orthodox economics you need to do a lot of mathematical modeling, but I’m not too interested in that. Rather, let’s look at some of the descriptive results. The first two figures shows the percentage of participants who chose the $3800 option when they were asked to choose between $3400 this month or $3800 next month. The last figure has on the x-axis “time pace.” This is an overall-pace measure is calculated out of three measures: walking speed, postal speed, and clock accuracy.

Some of the text is very illuminating as to cross-cultural differences:

Even for the students from Princeton University, the percentage choosing the patient option is lower than the percentage of German students (80% vs. 89%). Actually some students from our Norway survey even complained that the question was ridiculous because everybody would choose to wait for one month given the high implicit interest rate.

Other results were not surprising:

This result suggests that although the wealth level (and hence a general level of a country’s economy) is crucial to stimulate innovation, the attitude towards future also plays an important role. For example, while 69% of Taiwanese participants prefer to wait in the one-month question, only 44% of our Italian students prefer to wait. The two countries have the same GDP per capita in 2007, but Taiwan scored much higher in the innovation factor than Italy (5.26 vs. 4.19). It is worthwhile to investigate further to what extent and under what mechanism a general attitude towards future is related to the innovation activity.

And yet some were (at least to me):

After controlling the macro-economic variables (GDP per capita, growth rate, inflation rate), participants from countries with higher degree of Individualism and Long Term Orientation are more likely to wait. In contrast, for the present bias and long-term discount factor, the country with higher Uncertainty Avoidance score tend to discount the next year more.

In other words, societies and individuals who were more individualistic tended to have low time preference (more future-time orientation). It would be interesting to further decouple confounding variables. I assume that more intelligent people are more individualistic as well, so that might be the source of the correlation.

I didn’t focus on the formal model too much here because this seems highly exploratory, and there were many non-significant results. But I think this paragraph is of some interest:

In summary, it seems that we need different models for waiting tendency and medium/long-term discount factor. The waiting tendency depends more on the fundamental economic variables such as the country’s wealth level, and on general attitudes in a society such as individualism and the mentality towards past and future. In comparison, the medium/long-term discount factor depends more on the dynamic factors such as growth rate, and the attitudes toward uncertainty.

October 21, 2010

The wheel of history turns to the gods


About six months ago I read a history of modern Italy and was struck by a passage which observed that during the early years of the Italian state none of the prominent political leaders were practicing Roman Catholics. Part of this was specific to the history of the rise of modern Italy, Umberto I fought the Papacy, and so alienated the institution of the Church from the royal house and the state over which it ruled. But more generally many of the nationalists of the 19th century in Catholic Europe were of an anti-clerical bent. Only with the reconciliation of the Roman Catholic Church with the modern liberal democratic nation-state in the 20th century, and universal suffrage, have the political elites come to resemble the populace more in their religious sensibilities in these nations. And before you dismiss this as a European matter, observe that Andrew Jackson, our sixth president, was the first to have personal religious views in line with the American majority. As late as William Howard Taft in the early 20th century the United States had a head of state who rejected orthodox Christianity (he was a Unitarian Christian). Can we imagine that such a thing would come to pass without much controversy today? Mitt Romney has famously had to elide the yawning chasm between Mormonism and Nicene Christianity to be a viable candidate.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the paths of the arrows of history are more complex than we perceive them in our own moment in time. It is ironic that we in the United States are living through a period of secularization at the grassroots, while at the same time having to deal with the fact that all high level politicians have to pass through a de facto religious litmus test of relatively stringent orthodoxy. The complexity of this sort of social phenomenon makes it exceedingly difficult to analyze and characterize in a pithy fashion. Too often when scholars and intellectuals speak of the history of religion they impose their own visions on the flux of human belief and behavior. Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth is not such an argument. Rather, it is a cautious work which makes recourse to both robust theoretical models as well as a wide and rich set of empirical data. Kaufmann casts a very wide net in his attempt to retrieve a useful catch in terms of plausible and robust predictions. The central idea of the book is derived from the fact that the endogenous growth rates of religious segments of developed societies can often be rather high. The broader implication is that history moves in cycles, and that the current age of secularism is nearing its peak, and inevitable demographic forces will see the tide retreat.

As indicated above Eric Kaufmann does not simply present one with qualitative verbal arguments, he actually goes over the projections of quantitative models which his research team generated! In this area this is gold, for pure conjecture and speculation tend to abound. But Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth is not purely a theoretical treatise, it is rich with thick empirical data and references the broader literature. Eric Kaufmann is not sloppy with detail, and tends to couch assertions carefully. Unlike many who have a thesis he does not ignore or mitigate trends which go in the opposite direction of his broader argument. He admits, for example, that secularization continues in some regions of the world; in particular the United States, Southern Europe, and southern Latin America. There may even be some juice left in secularization in Northern Europe as the older generations which fill the pews die off to be replaced by the cresting wave of irreligious born since 1960. He also admits that societies which have gone through secularization have not swung back to irrevocable religiosity. For example, France in the early 19th century was characterized by a situation of highly fecund Catholic immigrants arriving to reinforce the conservative Catholic faction among the native-born. And yet nearly two centuries later France is as secular as ever, and in fact getting more secular.

These caveats aside, the demographic parameters of growth and decline do significantly shape the destiny of the future. In regions such as Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands the religious makeup of a society has slowly shifted purely through differences of fertility. This has had long term social-political consequences of varying degrees. This is not speculation or prediction, rather, we know the present conditions, and can see the hand of demography shaping the path of the past. His attention to specific details and their nuance is where Kaufmann wins my respect. He notes that the seemingly inevitable Catholic ascendancy in the Netherlands was never to be, because that sect experienced the same collapse in popular support which the mainstream Reformed Church did a generation before. The parameters of demographic destiny can be quite variable, so the details must always been approached with caution. Similarly, the fertility gap between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has closed, so the likely inevitable shift to a Catholic majority has slowed to a crawl and is only proceeding by demographic inertia. The long-term winners of the demographic game may not always be who we perceive to be most salient in the present, as engines of activity bubble underneath the radar.

The outline of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth is simple. A few initial general chapters lay out the parameters, probabilities, and projections. Then a series of specific sections focus on particular regions; the USA, the Islamic world, Europe, and Israel. Finally Eric Kaufmann reviews the general outline of his thesis, its implications for secular people, of whom he is one, and the caveats that must be made.

In a nutshell, here’s the power of endogenous growth.


Russia currently has a -0.50% growth rate, while Afghanistan has a 3.85% growth rate. Projecting outward on a yearly basis and you see the power of compounding. Assuming current rates of growth (or shrinkage) the two nations will cross paths sometime in the year 2050. Do I believe that that will come to pass? No. There’s no reason that these growth rates have to stay constant. I believe Afghanistan’s will decrease, while Russia’s will increase. In the former case I don’t think Afghanistan’s Human Development Index could get any lower, so I think fertility is  going to go down almost as an iron law of modern existence. For Russia, fertility collapsed relatively recently, so it may bounce back with a cultural change. Also, there are likely more fertile minorities within Russia would will bring back median fertility.

Let’s use a toy example to illustrate what I’m alluding to here. Imagine that 10% of Russian citizens are very fertile. If a nation of their own they’d have growth rates of 5% per year. In contrast 90% of Russians have a negative population growth rate of -0.6% per year. This produces about -0.50% per year when you weight by population for Russia as a whole, what we have right now. Let’s take the projections from the first chart, and add a new value for Russia which consists of the total population assuming these two sub-Russias are viewed as distinct populations. In other words, they don’t intermarry, and continue at their current pace of population growth.


So what happened? The new scenario for Russia still has population decline for the next 20 years, but eventually it stops and reverses. That’s because of the subsegment within the Russian population which is fertile keeps increase its proportion, and the aggregate rate of change shifts along with that. In fact, projecting outwards, in 2109 the fertile Russian group will be 94% of the population of Russia, as opposed to 10% in 2009. Because they’re the preponderance of Russia’s population in this toy model Russia they’re actually outpacing Afghanistan by then.

I wanted to show you a very simple toy model to give a good sense of the power of endogenous population growth and projection. This is the core axiom at the heart of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth. Demography influences destiny. I say influence because as Kaufmann himself will admit, and I always want to emphasize, fertility differences between populations can invert. In the 19th century in Rumelia, the Balkan regions under Ottoman rule, Christians had higher fertility than Muslims. Today the situation is very different. Some historical scholarship indicates that until very recently what we know of as Bosnia actually consisted of two populations, Muslims and Catholics, whose dialect of South Slav was more similar to Croatia than Serbia. The rise of Bosnian Serbs may then have been a function of migration due to population growth in Serbia proper. The subsequent conflict in the Balkans can be traced to Serb fears of Muslim hegemony in a nation in which that element became a larger and larger fraction due to higher fertility.

Before we move to specifics, a few general trends highlighted in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth. First, the simple one: the highly fertile religious nations are waxing in population, while secular regions are stagnant, or even in decline. In general Europe and European dominated societies are in the second class, along with East Asia. Basically the two regions of the world which most people reading this weblog would consider at an advanced state of modernity. In contrast, in the Islamic world, and in the more religious nations of Latin America (exclude the southern cone), Africa, and South Asia, secularism is weak as a mass phenomenon (though it has some purchase among elites in Latin America and India), and fertility is still high. Even in nations which are now sub-replacement, such as Iran, will grow in population because of demographic inertia. The young have not entered their peak childbearing years. Here are some examples:

Of course one can imagine that secularization will kick in in these societies at some point. But generally there needs to be a particular level of development, and in many of these nations it will be a very long haul indeed. If we’re taking about the scale of 2-3 generations it seems plausible that the proportion of atheists and agnostics in the world will decline as East Asia and Europe become a smaller and smaller fraction, and secularization does not immediately initiate in developing world. Examples of “snap secularization,” where societies go from being very religious to very secular in a decade or so, like Quebec, seem to have a bit of affluence under their belt (Spain today may be an example of this).

Eric Kaufmann has a specific thesis as to how modern secularization occurs: as societies develop nominal believers in religious societies eventually fall away. In Saudi Arabia, or Thailand, the connection between religion, culture, and nationality, is such that there are vast numbers of people who are affiliated and religious, but who don’t have any strong individual drive to be so. Rather, in their particular social environment some level of religiosity is the only option. Also, in the high fertility fraction of these societies there does not seem to be much fertility difference between the more and less religious. Rather, the fertility difference becomes stark once a society goes through demographic transition, and having children becomes a discretionary choice, rather than an expectation. The choice seems to be made in particular by individuals affiliated with strongly communitarian religious groups.

In the United States the fertility differences between religious groups can be stark. Muslims have a TFR of 2.84, while Jews have one of 1.43. The long term consequences of these between group differences are obviously interesting, but I believe that the more important data in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth is the documentation of within group differences. Aggregate Jewish fertility is low, below the 2.08 natural average. But Orthodox Jews are above the national average, while “ultra-Orthodox” (haredi) Jews are two to three times the national average! While the generic conservative white Protestant TFR is 2.13, there is a core group of radical conservative Protestants who have a TFR of above 2.5. Small sects such as Foursquare Gospel have Mormon-like rates of fertility. While the average American Catholic is around the same fertility as the non-Catholic, conservative traditionalist Catholics are much more fertile. Antonin Scalia has nine children.

Because of the relatively advanced state of the world Ashkenazi Jewry some of Eric Kaufmann’s predictions seem to be especially born out in them. Haredi Jews are the most ‘conservative’ of Orthodox Jews. We gentiles would probably recognize them as the Jews who ‘dress weird.’ The Hasidic communities are famous, but there are also non-Hasidic Haredi Jewish groups. In Britain the Haredim are 17 percent of the Jewish community. But shockingly they’re currently 75% of the births currently in Britain to Jews! Kaufmann also claims that the Haredi are now ~10% of American Jews in 2010, which would mean that the Orthodox as a whole are now gaining. The patterns in Israel are also striking, though more complex.

Israel is on of the world’s most ethnically diverse societies, with broad ethno-national categories of Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, and Sephardim, though even within these categories there is variation. In addition to this, there are divisions between secular Jews, religious, but not strictly Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jews of a modern bent, and finally, the Haredi. In this framework arguably the Ashkenazi are bimodal, concentrated among the secular and Haredi segments, while the non-Ashkenazi Jews tend to be religious, but not hyper-observant. On top of this there are also hyper-secular Russian Jews, many of whom are only partly Jewish in origin, as well as the non-Jewish minorities, mostly Arabs. In 1960 15 percent of elementary age students in Israel were Arab or Haredi. In 2010 ~50% are. It is because of the Haredi that Israel does not face an immediate demographic crisis as a Jewish state:

…In 2001, there were around 95,000 Jewish births in Israel and 41,000 Arab births. Just seven years later, in 2008, Jewish births had risen to over 117,000, but Arab births had declined to less than 40,000. In a period that constitutes barely a quarter of a generation, Arab births had fallen from around 30 percent of the total to around 25 percent. This has been a steady trend and, should it continue, it will only be a very short time before Jewish and Arab births each year are broadly proportionate to the overall balance of Jews and Arabs in the population as whole – that is, 4:1, or 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

The Haredi fertility is stable, somewhere in the 6-10 TFR range depending on the community, while Arab TFR has dropped to 4 or below. Interestingly the secular Jewish TFR has also increased in the past generation, from 2.1 to 2.6. This is a reminder to be very careful of average values of fertility for a group. It seems that for ideological or cultural reasons the Haredi in Israel remain fertile, even after allowances for children were cut back, which had an immediate effect on Arab fertility. The lower Jewish aggregate fertility ignores the motive force of the Haredi within the larger community. Assuming current trends the Haredi will likely become the majority within Israel by about 2050.

Shifting to Europe, the same dynamic may be at play. It is well known that much of Europe has a Muslim minority, though perhaps less well known that Russia has a larger proportion than any Western European nation, at ~10-15%. In the European Union as a whole the total number of Muslims is on the order of ~5%, and this includes traditionally Muslim groups in the Balkans (Slavs, Albanians, and Turks). But the key is the future. Kaufmann assembled data from nations where there was information on fertility changes by religion, migration rates, etc. Here are some numbers for Western European nations:


Some of this is not too surprising. The problem in the area of statistics about Muslims in Europe is that ignorance, fear, and stupidity is rife. As someone with an aversion and dislike for Islam in particular of all the higher religions I have been known to be susceptible to that tendency. But the reality is that Islamic populations are modest, but very concentrated, in much of Europe. So, for example the fact that in Rotterdam the majority of births may be to Muslims is conflated with the fact that the majority of births in the Netherlands will be to Muslims! Americans who travel to Europe and visit Amsterdam, London, and Paris, may get a very skewed view as to the ethnic diversity of Europe. Even then, London, that most diverse of cities, is actually about as white as the United States as a whole.

There are several parameters which will influence Islam in the future. Primarily, intermarriage, conversion & defection, immigration, and fertility. Outside of the French Muslim community intermarriage with non-Muslims is low in Western Europe. This is in contrast to traditionally Christian groups; more than 50% of second generation black Britons intermarry, vs. less than 10% of Muslims (though the number for South Asian non-Muslims is nearly as low). Though there are prominent instances of conversion, the reality is that numerically they are few and far between. Though outright defection to Christianity or other religions seems uncommon, in part because of social ostracism from the community, in some regions secularization is common (e.g., France). Finally, there is immigration and fertility. Some of the source nations of Muslims to Europe, such as Turkey and Algeria, are near replacement or sub-replacement in fertility. Additionally, even though European social benefits are generous, one could assert that Turkey presents a more favorable medium-to-long-term prospect in terms of labor opportunities than Germany for a Turk. With the likely curtailment of the most generous aspects of the European welfare state in the age of austerity one presumes that that magnet for immigration will be less powerful. Finally, there is the issue of fertility. Here there is wide variance, with very fertile South Asians and Somalis, and far less fertile North Africans and Turks. The source nation of the ethnic group seems to matter quite a bit. Nevertheless, there are two factors to highlight here. First, there is almost always a gap in fertility between Muslims and non-Muslims. In the German-speaking world and Italy the fertility of non-Muslim populations (excluding Roma) is so low that even modestly fecund Muslim minorities have a great advantage. Second, Muslim fertility rates do tend to converge with non-Muslim ones after a few generations.


The assumptions in the model:

- Convergence between Muslim and non-Muslim fertility by 2050

- The same rates of immigration between now and 2050

- No secularization for Muslims between now and 2050

None of these are realistic assumptions, but the deviation from reality of the first would have the opposite effect as the latter ones. That is, fertility will probably not totally converge, but it is also likely that some secularization will occur, and that immigration rates may decrease because of the global demographic transition. Taking the projections further the models indicate that the Muslim proportion of Europe will stabilize at around ~20% by the second half the 21st century. I find it interesting that Sweden may have the highest fractions of Muslims in Europe in my lifetime, excluding areas with traditional Muslim majorities (Albania), or large minorities (Macedonia, Bulgaria, etc.). Perhaps by 2050 a “Swedish Burqa Team” will be more appropriate than a “Swedish Bikini Team.”?

euroslam3The exception in Europe in regards to the Muslim vs. non-Muslim gap is France. This has long been evident to me in the survey data. French “Muslims” are more religious and fertile than French non-Muslims, but the gap is far smaller than between British Muslims and non-Muslims. The figure to the left is from The Gallup Coexist Index 2009. It’s immediately evident that though French Muslims are far less gay friendly than the French public as a whole, the gap between them and the broader society is far smaller than between British Muslims and the British in general. Literally 0% of British Muslims believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable. I guess the British can take pride in their multicultural society, which has allowed for diverse values to flourish.

In any case Eric Kaufmann argues that there’s a relatively understandable reason why French Muslims are more integrated than their co-religionists in Britain and Germany. It isn’t because of France’s ideological demand that immigrants assimilate to “French culture.” Rather, he points out that a disproportionate number of French Muslims, the majority, are of North African origin, and that North Africa has a relatively large secular population in relation to the rest of the Muslim world. Additionally, a disproportionate number of North Africans in France are of Kabyle Berber stock. This non-Arab minority in Algeria has long been subject to discrimination from the Arab majority, especially in the nationalistic era. In response Kabyle intellectuals have espoused an aggressive separatist identity, which has pushed Islam somewhat to the side because of its association with the Arab conquest and the Arab majority. Though Muslims, I believe one would see the same trend with the Alevi Turkish Muslims in Germany, who are reputedly more open to assimilating into German society. A group which has been persecuted and marginalized in Turkey itself by the Sunni majority, it seems plausible that the Alevi Turks have a less strong attachment to a separate identity as Turks because of their fraught history.

But what about the presumed Christian majority? European societies have been traditionally Christian, and today are nominally so. In nations like Finland most people are members of the national church, but it is an expression of their national identity, not their belief in the truth claims around which the institution was built. In other words state-sponsored Scandinavian Lutheranism is rather like a facade, with all the trappings of outward religion, but generally lacking in substantive dynamism. But there are exceptions to this in all European societies where a lax and nominal majority is ascendant. In Finland there is a branch of the sectarian Laestadian Lutherans. Their fertility is awesome. In the 1980s while the TFR of the majority Finnish Lutherans was 1.5, that of the Laestadians was 5.5. I met an individual whose family was from the Laestadian tradition last spring. Though he himself is not a religious believer at all, I was struck by the fact that he and his wife (also irreligious) were enthusiastic about the prospect of having a rather large family, definitely above replacement. In the United States such a sanguine attitude toward family planning, and pro-natalist enthusiasm, is pretty much unknown among secular professionals of my acquaintance. In contrast, in Italy the whole society is strongly skeptical of the sustainability of large families in terms of maintaining levels of individual affluence, though they are rather ill-at-ease with the importation of West African, Filipino, and Bangaldeshi servitor castes.

These sorts of within society fissures and divisions lead us to consider the wide gap in fertility and religiosity which has now emerged in Western developed societies. Eric Kaufmann points out that it is precisely in these secularized developed nations that the correlation between religiosity and fertility is strongest. The religious invest their surplus economic productivity in children in a classic Malthusian manner. Secular and moderately religious folk tend to practice family planning, and many have delayed child-bearing so long that they will not replace themselves (being childless or only having one child). It is in the wake of the first demographic transition that Eric Kaufmann believes a second demographic transition will emerge. The cultural and social realities which enjoined high fertility in the pre-modern world no longer hold. Now that people may choose when to have children, many choose not to. Those who choose to have children do so for ideological and normative reasons. The natural inference then is that the correlation between values and fertility is driving rapid cultural evolution in these societies.

From all the data surveyed it seems that Israel is the nation which is closest to the second demographic transition.

In many ways it is a peculiar nation. Though the Haredi are the primary vehicles of the Jewish demographic renaissance, they are also famously less economically productive on a per unit basis than non-Haredi Israelis. They also tend to avoid national military service at much higher rates than the rest of the Jewish population. It is clear that in some ways Israel is facing a crisis of national identity because of the demographic decline of its core Zionist ethnos, the secular Ashkenazi Jew. These are the intellectuals, politicians, and military officers of the Israel state. But if current trends pan out, by 2050 Haredi Jews will be a majority of Israel’s population. If that is so then without a massive gain in per capita human economic productivity the Israeli state will not be able to subsidize the scholarly pursuits of many Haredi men. Between then and now a social revolution of some sort is inevitable. Details to be worked out.

But 2050 is a long way away. How much of 2010 could you predict from 1970? In general I have to admit that I skip over projections of the year 2100. On the other hand, projections of the year 2030 are of great interest, as a 20 year window seems small enough that trends would be robust enough to absorb any shocks. 2050 is a gray point for me, I’m generally skeptical, but don’t think that such projections can be dismissed out of hand. But the details matter. Kaufmann quotes some scholars who assert that ~20% of Americans will be of mixed racial heritage heritage by then as defined by the Census. Depending on how these individuals classify themselves, and how society views them, will turn the answer to the question of whether the USA will be majority non-white in 2050. Trends can change very quickly, as can their interpretations.

The author admits that an “optimistic” scenario, from his perspective as a liberal secular Westerner, is of equilibration. That the fecund religious will birth the future generations of secularists. In some ways this has been occurring for a few centuries now, starting with the first explicit and public anti-clericalists who came to the fore during the French Revolutionary regime. In Kaufmann’s own data set he shows that secular Dutch women were below replacement before World War II. And yet Dutch society as a whole went through massive secularization after World War II. The point here is that even though religion is heritable, it is not purely so.

But the current regime is different from the previous one. Before World War II secularists were a rather small minority. In Germany in the mid-1930s around 96% of the population still had affiliation with the Protestant or Catholic confession.  Some of the remaining 4% were Jews. Today 35% of Germans register “no confession.” Secularism in Europe today is a robust cultural phenomenon, and in its Northern and Western European cores it seems to have peaked among the youth. There is still some secularization to be had as older generations pass on, but over time the fertile religious will trigger the second demographic transition. And here Kaufmann argues that conservative anti-worldly religious groups have become better and better at inoculating their offspring from the temptations of the secular world. Retention is now much higher than it was in the past. Though he doesn’t quite come out and say it in such a manner what is being alluded to here is cultural evolution, so that fundamentalist groups are much better prepared in the ideological battle with mainstream secular culture. God lost the initial battles, but he may still win the war.

If so Kaufmann sees a dark future from what I can gather. At least dark as judged by what secular liberals think is right, true, and good. The precedents in Israel are not heartening to secularists. Demographically robust Haredi have been marginalizing non-religious Jews across much of the country. Though Tel Aviv remains a European Mediterranean city, in many ways Jerusalem has become distinctively Oriental-Haredi in flavor. The fusion between religion and nationalism can lead to explosions of violence, such as that of Yigal Amir. I don’t need to elaborate on the specifics, as that ground has been fruitfully covered elsewhere. The question Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth poses is whether this century will be the great glorious age of secular liberal democracy; the century when history stood still and the gods slumbered. If the religious become numerically preponderant it may be that the atavistic battles of the past will come back to life. Already there have been accusations that American foreign policy in the aughts was driven by evangelical Christian fervor. Though I find Robert Pape’s arguments as to the secular origins of religious terror persuasive, I also believe that the supernatural-communal aspect of the acts makes them all the more powerful in their impact, and the enterprise more sustainable.

Eric Kaufmann ends Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth on a wistful, almost existential, note. He observes that the religious believe they have a reason to be, and to procreate so as to produce the next generation of humans. In contrast many non-religious folk lack such a drive or inclination, and are satisfied with consuming and enjoying the present. Secular ideologies have by and large disappeared as major animating forces in our culture. There is no Marxian dialectic driving us to some end point, rather, it seems that modern secular man yearns for a future with successively more flashy and functional iPods and iPads. But in nations such as Israel the secular population is still the primary engine of economic growth; like Atlas it holds both the Haredi and Arab sector up with its subsidy derived from its industry. What will the future hold if the worldly folk are shunted aside by their own self-indulgence? Can a technological civilization persist if the world is dominated by stark sectarian cultural commonwealths? Though the demographic answers are provisional, and I only have a modest confidence in their validity, these more philosophical questions which Eric Kaufmann poses leave me uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth is a book that every data-driven culture-nerd should pick up. It requires a few read throughs, and a great deal of rumination.

Image Credit: Ricardo630

October 16, 2010

Support for bans on interracial marriage by sex

Filed under: data,Data Analysis,GSS,Interracial Marriage,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 7:07 pm

A quick follow-up to my previous post which points to the data that women tend to be more race-conscious in dating than men. There’s a variable in the GSS which asks if you support a ban on interracial marriage, RACMAR. Here’s the question itself:

Do you think there should be laws against marriages between (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) and whites?

There isn’t much surprising in the results for this variable. It was asked between 1972 and 2002, and support for a ban on interracial marriages dropped over time. Whites, old people, conservatives, and less educated people, tended to support these bans, as well as Southerners. But what about men vs. women? I’ve never actually looked at that. I limited the sample to whites; the number of blacks in the sample is small and wouldn’t alter the result, but I figured I’d control for race anyway. Support for such laws is in the 35-40% range for whites in 1972, before dropping off to 5-15% in 2002.

Here’s the trendline broken down by sex:


There is a small but consistent difference until the last year. The difference is within 95% intervals within a given year of course. But the consistency of the greater female support for interracial marriage bans made me want to perform a logistic regression. I decided to look at the total sample, and also limit it to the 1970s. The pseudo r-square for both is ~0.20. Italics means lack of statistical significance. The other values were all p = 0.000 in the GSS interface.

Full Sample 1972-1980

Sex -0.282 -0.428
Degree 0.467 0.430
Intelligence 0.296 0.329
Political Ideology -0.147 -0.178
Year of Survey 0.054 0.041
Age 0.036 -0.041

These results confirm that being female predicts a greater likelihood of supporting laws against interracial marriage. Having more education and being intelligent reduced the probability. Surprisingly year and age don’t matter much when you’re taking other variables into account.

As a final note, let’s compare sex differences on another issue: homosexuality. The HOMOSEX variable asks about “sexual relations between adults of the same sex.” There are four responses:

1 = Always wrong

2 = Almost always wrong

3 = Sometimes wrong

4 = Not wrong at all

Using the GSS I computed the mean value year by year. So if in 1974 50% said homosexual sex was always wrong, and 50% not wrong at all, you’d have a mean value of 2.5. Here is the trendline by year by sex:


As with interracial marriage, there is a small, but consistent, sex difference.  On the margins the sex difference will disappear, so one can think of it as one sex “lagging” the other on social change.

Female race consciousness as prudence

Filed under: dating,Interracial dating,Racism,Sex Differences,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 3:52 pm

Big Think has a post, Do Women Value Ethnicity Over Income in a Mate?:

The results are striking. An African-American man would have to earn $154,000 more than a white man in order for a white woman to prefer him. A Hispanic man would need to earn $77,000 more than a white man, and Asian man would need, remarkably, an additional $247,000 in additional annual income.

So do women value ethnicity over income in a mate? They certainly seem too. If income was the more important factor in mate choice these numbers would be small; it would take very little additional income to entice a woman to date a man of a different race. The fact that the numbers are so large suggests that a man’s race is significantly more important that his income.

And men? Well the problem is that men don’t seem to care about income at all. So even though their behaviour suggests they care less about their partner’s race than women do, the income needed to encourage them to make the trade-off between races is incalculably large. To really estimate how much men care about race you would have to find a different measure, like perhaps physical beauty.

First, there has been research controlling for physical beauty. So the white male disinclination toward black females can be accounted for mostly by the fact that they aren’t as physically attracted to them. When you limit the sample of black women to those which they are physically attracted to the discrepancy mostly disappears. In contrast, when you similarly constrain the samples of black men which white women judge as attractive the discrepancy in dating preference remains (the same when you do so for Asian men).

All this is not new. I blogged this two years ago, and have gotten bored with the topic (there a regular series of papers which confirm the finding in different circumstances). The sex difference in race preference in the dating literature seems relatively robust. Women care about the race of their partners far more than men, all things equal (in fact, much of the literature suggests men are not concerned about race very much when you control for other background variables). If a site brands itself as “Big Think”, it would be nice to add some value.

I’ll offer a hypothesis in keeping with Ann Althouse’s rule-of-thumb in regards to discussing sex differences in polite company: make sure to make it seem as if women are superior in some fashion. Perhaps women simply have a lower time preference? That is, they’re thinking of long-term consequences. Interracial divorce rates are higher, so women may be making implicit calculations as to the probable success of a relationship as opposed to the short-term benefits of a pairing which men fixate upon. Additionally they may be more liable to “think of the children.” Though I’m generally skeptical of the social science research in this area which indicate that mixed-race children experience stress because of their background, there are plenty of high profile media accounts of people of mixed-race and their “struggles” with their identity. This may shape perceptions of the quality of life of the children. In other words, women aren’t being shallow at all, race is an excellent proxy for all sorts of social-cultural variates which might effect the outcomes of a relationship success, and also the fullness of life which their offspring may experience. Women are then in this model being prudent by using a coarse variate, race, as a proxy for the multi-textured reality of how race is lived in America, and how it matters deeply in the lives of human beings.

To test this sort of model we need data from other societies. There are confounds in this analysis in the USA because Asians, for example, are a small minority who as a matter of necessity can’t really limit their dating pool as much as whites. Additionally, it would be useful to take a fine-grained look at Hispanic dating patterns. About ~50% of Hispanic/Latino Americans identify as white, ~40% as “other”, while ~10% a mix with a substantial number of blacks. The race preference may be mostly a function of perception of cultural values, in which case you’d see that Hispanics don’t exhibit any sex bias in race at all. Then it would not be a matter of women being more racist, but being far less cosmopolitan! Oops, I mean that the low time preference is not operating through a racial proxy but a cultural proxy which is correlated with race. In other words, women are culturally sensitive, while men are culturally insensitive.

September 16, 2010

More exercise = more I.Q.?

Filed under: Health,Select,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 8:54 am

Uni_Freiburg_-_Philosophen_Interesting post by Gretchen Reynolds reviewing the evidence on exercise and intelligence. The title is “Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?”, so this is definitely seen as something which is “actionable” in a public policy sense, especially in light of the increases in obesity among young people. Intuitively I think most people are going to agree with this in the United States. In fact, when you’re down with the flu or some other illness you are generally less productive (most of the films I’ve watched over the past three years have been when I’m ill since I can’t focus on difficult material), so there’s probably going to be a natural connection made between greater cognitive function with greater health.

First, Reynolds points to a study which shows that:

1) The most fit children are more intelligent than the least fit as adduced from psychometric tests

2) The most fit children ‘had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply.’ The researchers controlled for socioeconomic status and body mass index,

A second study indicated that the fit children had better working memory and greater hippocampal volume. Finally, an earlier study using data from Swedish conscripts showed that even among identical twins the fitter ones were more intelligent. Note that the primary author was the same on the first two studies. Before commenting further how about looking at some tables and/or figures from the papers?

The first image has two tables from the first paper, the second two images are from the second paper, and finally, the last is from the last paper.

As most of you know just because papers make it through peer review doesn’t imply that they’re going to stand the test of time. Over the years I’ve also gotten more and more skeptical of neuroimaging results, primarily because there’s now psychological evidence that images of brains add to the credibility of research in a very irrational fashion. To really understand the first two studies you probably have to be a cognitive neuroscientist, in particular, one with some background in psychometrics. The last study is more straightforward as you’re comparing dizygotic and monozygotic twins, and seeing the correlations between traits as a function of genetic relatedness. The latter are genetically identical, in theory if not totally in practice, so one presumes that the differences may be environmental.

Perhaps, but it depends on what you label “environment.” We may be seeing differences which derive from random events in the fetal environment, or during early stages of development. Aspects of fitness are often correlated. If athletic and intellectual prowess are both embedded in numerous genetic and physiological pathways, which seem likely, then variations due to stochastic aspects of development may affect both trait clusters in the same fashion.

In other words I’d say to make a strong case for the efficacy of exercise and aerobic health as a driver of higher intelligence we should wait for more research. On the other hand there are plenty of data on the value of aerobic health more generally, and the downsides of obesity, so there are other grounds on which to move forward. I suspect if these sorts of studies get into the Zeitgeist you’ll have pretty dumb books published soon with titles like “How 1 hour of exercise a day can give you 10 I.Q. points! (as shown by studies!)”.

Note: A quick lit search yields papers like this, so I’m not totally clear that there are robust long term cognitive benefits to exercise, though in some cases there seems to be.

Image Credit: Michael Schmalenstroer

August 2, 2010

Social science isn’t “science”?

Filed under: Epistemology,Scientism,Social Science — Razib Khan @ 8:53 am

Update: The title is way too strong as a reflection of my opinion. I’ve added a question mark.

A friend once observed that you can’t have engineering without science, making the whole concept of “social engineering” somewhat farcical. Jim Manzi has an article in City Journal which reviews the checkered history of scientific methods as applied to humanity, What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know: Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound.

The criticisms of a scientific program as applied to humanity are deep, and two pronged. As Manzi notes the “causal density” of human phenomena make teasing causation from correlation very difficult. Additionally, the large scale and humanistic nature of social phenomena make them ethically and practically impossible to apply methods of scientific experimentation. This is why social scientists look for “natural experiments,” or involve extrapolation from “WEIRD” subject pools. But as Manzi notes many of the correlations themselves are highly context sensitive and not amenable to replication.

He concludes:

It is tempting to argue that we are at the beginning of an experimental revolution in social science that will ultimately lead to unimaginable discoveries. But we should be skeptical of that argument. The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it has moved through topics of increasing complexity. Physics was entirely transformed. Therapeutic biology had higher causal density, but it could often rely on the assumption of uniform biological response to generalize findings reliably from randomized trials. The even higher causal densities in social sciences make generalization from even properly randomized experiments hazardous. It would likely require the reduction of social science to biology to accomplish a true revolution in our understanding of human society—and that remains, as yet, beyond the grasp of science.

At the moment, it is certain that we do not have anything remotely approaching a scientific understanding of human society. And the methods of experimental social science are not close to providing one within the foreseeable future. Science may someday allow us to predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably. Until then, we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can.

April 19, 2010

1980-2000, the age of death & feticide

Poking around the GSS for another reason I stumbled onto something weird. Something which I’d seen hints of, or seen referred to before, but never followed up myself. It seems that support for abortion-on-demand and the death penalty peaked concurrently in the span between 1980-2000. This is evident in two GSS variables, ABANY and CAPPUN, which ask if you support a woman’s right to an abortion for any reason and the death penalty for murder. Additionally, I decided to look at attitudes toward homosexuality using HOMOSEX as a reference as a point of contrast. Unlike abortion or the death penalty attitudes toward homosexuality have been changing in the same direction for the past 30 years. Additionally, the magnitude of the change seems to be much greater than in regards to the other two controversial social issues, and especially abortion, which has exhibited notable stability.

I was particularly interested in differences by religion, so  I limited the sample to whites and broke it down by Protestant, Catholic, Jew and None. To reduce sample size volatility I clustered by decade, so that “1970s” is inclusive of every year in the 1970s that the GSS asked the question for that variable.




The only thing I note beyond the concurrency is that the more socially liberal groups, Jews for example, seem to exhibit more fluctuation by decade. Conservatives are conservative in part because they reflect older norms on issues where they are conservative. The issues which defined liberal vs. conservative in the 1960s, for example attitudes toward desegregation, are no longer salient because conservatives how now aligned themselves with liberals (there are other issues where the reverse may be true, especially when it comes to the failure of Great Society. I suspect that many, though not all, 1960s liberals would admit that AFDC as it was implemented before the Clinton era reform was not a success in defeating the culture of poverty). It is also notable that in the 1980s Jews were more pro-death penalty than Catholics or those with no religion. I think this might have to do with the massive urban crime wave which was peaking back then. I remember how much preparation for street crime people went through in the 1980s when visiting New York City. Jewish concentration in large urban centers where violent street crime was common might explain the shift toward the death penalty.

Next, I wanted to compare the relationship of support for death penalty and abortion rights. The columns below indicate those who favor or oppose capital punishment for murder, and the rows indicate support for or opposition to abortion on demand. At the bottom you also see a ratio of those who are pro-choice and pro-life among those who support to the death penalty.

Favor Oppose
Yes 30% 7%
No 51% 12%
Favor Oppose
Yes 31% 6%
No 45% 19%
Favor Oppose
Yes 55% 23%
No 21% 2%

Favor Oppose
Yes 44% 23%
No 28% 6%
(Pro-choice support death penalty)/(Pro-life support death penalty)
Protestant 1
Catholic 1.16
Jew 0.87
None 0.89

So first, it seems that among Roman Catholics being pro-life suggests a small but significant tendency to oppose capital punishment above expectation. The seamless garment isn’t a total illusion, though do note that pro-choice and pro-death penalty Catholics still outnumber anti-death penalty anti-abortion Catholics. The death penalty for murderers is really popular. Among Protestants the two views seem independent, as there wasn’t a correlation in either direction. In contrast, Jews and those with no religion go the other direction as Catholics. Those who are pro-choice are more likely to oppose the death penalty, and those who are pro-life are more likely to support the death penalty. Also, look at the really huge ratio between the proportion of Jews who support the death penalty and abortion rights, over half, and those who oppose both, around 1 in 50!

Note: I limited the data to the year 2000 and after, and there isn’t much of a change in direction, though the magnitude is tweaked a bit.

Addendum: Abortion rates have been dropping since 1990.

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