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Polygenic Scores Mediate the Jewish Phenotypic Advantage in Educational Attainment and Cognitive Ability Compared With Catholics and Lutherans

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A newly released multivariate polygenic score for educational attainment, cognitive ability, and self-rated mathematical ability in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study was examined as a mediator of the group difference between Jews (n = 53) and 2 Christian denominations, Catholics (n = 2,603) and Lutherans (n = 2,027), with respect to educational attainment, IQ, and performance on a similarities measure. It was found that the Jewish performance advantage over both Catholics and Lutherans with respect to all 3 measures was partially and significantly mediated by group differences in the polygenic score. This result is consistent with the prediction that the high average cognitive ability of Jews may have been shaped, in part, by polygenic selection acting on this population over the course of several millennia. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
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Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Polygenic Scores Mediate the Jewish Phenotypic
Advantage in Educational Attainment and Cognitive
Ability Compared With Catholics and Lutherans
Curtis S. Dunkel, Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Jonatan Pallesen, and Emil O. W. Kirkegaard
Online First Publication, January 24, 2019.
Dunkel, C. S., Woodley of Menie, M. A., Pallesen, J., & Kirkegaard, E. O. W. (2019, January 24).
Polygenic Scores Mediate the Jewish Phenotypic Advantage in Educational Attainment and
Cognitive Ability Compared With Catholics and Lutherans. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.
Advance online publication.
Polygenic Scores Mediate the Jewish Phenotypic Advantage in
Educational Attainment and Cognitive Ability Compared With
Catholics and Lutherans
Curtis S. Dunkel
Western Illinois University
Michael A. Woodley of Menie
Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Unz Foundation,
Palo Alto, California
Jonatan Pallesen
Aarhus, Denmark
Emil O. W. Kirkegaard
New York, New York
A newly released multivariate polygenic score for educational attainment, cognitive
ability, and self-rated mathematical ability in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study was
examined as a mediator of the group difference between Jews (n53) and 2 Christian
denominations, Catholics (n2,603) and Lutherans (n2,027), with respect to
educational attainment, IQ, and performance on a similarities measure. It was found
that the Jewish performance advantage over both Catholics and Lutherans with respect
to all 3 measures was partially and significantly mediated by group differences in the
polygenic score. This result is consistent with the prediction that the high average
cognitive ability of Jews may have been shaped, in part, by polygenic selection acting
on this population over the course of several millennia.
Public Significance Statement
Ashkenazi Jews exhibit high levels of general intelligence. The hypothesis that
differences in general intelligence between Jews and Catholics and Lutherans is
partially mediated by polygenic scores for educational attainment was tested. The
results support the hypothesized partial mediation.
Keywords: general intelligence, polygenic scores, religious groups
Supplemental materials:
Curtis S. Dunkel, Department of Psychology, Western Il-
linois University; Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Center Leo
Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brus-
sel, and Unz Foundation, Palo Alto, California; Jonatan Pall-
esen, independent researcher, Aarhus, Denmark; Emil O. W.
Kirkegaard, independent researcher, New York, New York.
This research uses data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal
Study (WLS) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Since 1991, the WLS has been supported principally by the
National Institute on Aging (AG-9775, AG-21079, AG-
033285, and AG-041868), with additional support from the
Vilas Estate Trust, the National Science Foundation, the
Spencer Foundation, and the Graduate School of the Uni-
versity of Wisconsin–Madison. Since 1992, data have been
collected by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center. A
public use file of data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal
Study is available from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study,
University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1180 Observatory
Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, and at http://www.ssc The opinions expressed herein
are those of the authors.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Curtis S. Dunkel, Department of Psychology,
Western Illinois University, Waggoner Hall, Macomb, IL
61455. E-mail:
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences
© 2019 American Psychological Association 2019, Vol. 1, No. 999, 000
Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews in particular, exhibit
possibly the highest group mean for IQ of any
population. Systematic reviews of the Jewish IQ
average indicate that it falls between 109 and 115
(Lynn, 2011), with the difference between Jewish
and non-Jewish populations being greatest on the
more highly g-saturated measures—indicating
that the advantage is primarily on the underlying
general cognitive ability (GCA) factor (Dunkel,
2014; te Nijenhuis, David, Metzen, & Armstrong.,
2014). Jews also exhibit a strong tilt toward verbal
and quantitative reasoning and away from visu-
ospatial ability (Lynn, 2011; Nisbett, 2009). These
psychometric advantages are likely a major factor
associated with their high representation in elite
professions, such as media, academia and among
those winning Nobel Prizes (Cofnas, 2018; Lynn,
2011; Murray, 2007).
Two major theories have been proposed to
account for the Jewish IQ advantage. The first is
based on the observation that their capabilities
and even affinities for various economic niches
may have been shaped by selective pressures
acting on these populations over hundreds of
years, and thus, their advantage might be ge-
netic (MacDonald, 1994). Cochran, Hardy, and
Harpending (2006) proposed that in the Middle
Ages, Jews in Europe were essentially pigeon-
holed into certain social and economic niches
by virtue of religious and social pressure. This
in turn led to culture-gene coevolution shaping
the Jewish ability structure. Cochran et al.
(2006) posited that the primary genetic locus of
this selection might have been rare variants
associated with sphignolipid (lipid storage) dis-
orders, common among Jews, such as Tay-Sachs
disease. This theory has not been tested directly;
however, there are hints in the data that those who
are heterozygous for the Tay-Sachs allele in par-
ticular appear to have higher levels of educational
attainment, when compared with heterozygotes
for other diseases (Kohn, Manowitz, Miller, &
Kling, 1988). This finding is at least in line with
predictions from the theory.
The second major theory is that the Talmudic
tradition among Jews incubates high ability via
the construction of a culture that emphasizes
learning and abstract reasoning and that is trans-
mitted from generation to generation vertically
as an environmental cause (Botticini & Eck-
stein, 2012; Ferguson, 2007). This model pur-
ports to be able to account for the Jewish ad-
vantage in ability and educational achievement
without recourse to genetic selection (Ferguson,
2007). This model should be considered specu-
lative because shared environment and in par-
ticular vertical transfer effects are generally small
or zero for GCA and are not generally found in
adulthood (Bouchard, 2013; Hatemi et al.,
2010; Eaves et al., 1999; Odenstad et al., 2008).
An additional possibility, apparently thus far
not considered at length, is that polygenic se-
lection acting over the course of several thou-
sand years and on multiple genetic variants,
which cumulatively account for variance in
GCA, may also have contributed to the group
difference in ability between Jews and non-
Jews. This could have been engendered by fac-
tors such as cultural group selection favoring
higher group-level GCA as an adaptation to
heightened intergroup competition, as envis-
aged by MacDonald (1994). Culture-gene co-
evolution involving niche provisioning and spe-
cialization of a sort envisaged by Cochran et al.
(2006) may also have been a source of this
polygenic selection. Indeed, the endogenous
cultural forces identified by proponents of cul-
ture-only theories (such as the development and
vertical transmission of scholarship and rule-
based systems of social organization, e.g., Fer-
guson, 2007) might themselves have been
sources of selective pressure acting on these
populations over time, with fitness payoffs hav-
ing accrued to those most capable of learning
and using such innovations. Consistent with
this, MacDonald (1994) has noted that the Tal-
mud contains injunctions against marriage in-
volving those who exhibit signs of low social
status (specifically the ‘am-ha-ares, or the ritu-
ally unclean). The precise nature of the selective
pressures that might have shaped (in particular)
Ashkenazi Jewish GCA are not known with any
certainty at present. A necessary criterion for
invoking these in the first place is the demon-
stration of systematic differences between Jews
and non-Jews with respect to salient genetic
Selection acting on polygenic scores (PGS)
can substantially shift the population means of
traits in relatively short amounts of time. For
Polygenic scores are constructed using results from a
GWAS of the trait of interest. Essentially, they are the sum
of the alleles multiplied by their beta on the trait from the
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example, in the population of Iceland, poly-
genic selection against variants predictive of
educational attainment may have reduced the
IQ of the population by 0.3 points per decade, or
2.1 points over 70 years (Kong et al., 2017).
Indeed, this may even be an excessively con-
servative estimate (for alternative calculations
see Woodley of Menie, Figueredo et al., 2017).
When comparing ancient Bronze and Early Iron
Age genomes, sourced from Eurasia, with those
from ancestrally matched modern European
populations, significant differences in the fre-
quencies of positively predictive alleles for ed-
ucational attainment and GCA have also been
found, favoring the modern populations. This is
consistent with a long-term Holocene selective
sweep in these populations, favoring higher
GCA (Woodley of Menie, Younuskunju, Balan,
& Piffer, 2017). Even among a subsample of the
ancient genomes for which radiocarbon dates
were available, significant associations between
sample age and positive allele frequency were
noted across a span of 3250 years (Woodley of
Menie, Younuskunju et al., 2017).
Given the recent availability of high-quality
PGS on educational attainment and related cog-
nitive phenotypes from large samples (Lee et
al., 2018), some of which contain Jews, it should
be possible to carry out a genetically informed
study on the etiology of the group difference in
GCA and educational attainment between Jews
and non-Jewish Caucasians of other religious
denominations (Catholic and Protestant). The
comparison of these two groups is desirable
because of the following: (a) evolutionary the-
ories of high Jewish ability have emphasized a
role for intergroup competition and niche pro-
visioning between these two groups in particu-
lar (Cochran et al., 2006; MacDonald, 1994,
1998); and (b) population differences studies
using PGS are potentially sensitive to linkage
decay, which results from recombination random-
izing the associations between alleles on chro-
mosomes over time (Bush & Moore, 2012).
This is problematic when the single-nucleotide
polymorphisms are noncausal variants that are
flagged by the genome-wide association study
(GWAS) procedure because they happen to be
in consistent linkage phase with the causal vari-
ants (Zanetti & Weale, 2016). This problem
reduces the utility of PGS when used for pop-
ulations relatively distant to the training sample
(Li & Keating, 2014; cf. Piffer, 2015). Ashke-
nazi Jews and non-Jewish Caucasians have been
found exhibit relatively low levels of genetic
differentiation. Tian et al. (2008) found that
Ashkenazi Jews exhibited F
values ranging
from .0040 when compared with Italians to
.0144 when compared with Basque (across
eight Caucasian populations, the unweighted
average is .009). This means that Ashkenazi
Jews exhibit little genetic differentiation, rela-
tive to non-Jewish Caucasians (F
values rang-
ing from 0 to .05 correspond to little genetic
differentiation; Hartl & Clark, 1989). Values
this low also correspond to negligible amounts
of prospective linkage decay because this pa-
rameter has been found to scale quite strongly
with F
(Scutari, Mackay, & Balding, 2016).
To test the polygenic selection theory, a large
sample of predominantly Caucasian individuals
of European descent from the United States,
which also contains Jews will be utilized in a
mediation analysis. We first examine the group
difference between Jews and non-Jews belong-
ing to two large Christian denominations on
PGS and indices of GCA and, second, test ex-
amines the degree to which a PGS capturing
phenotypic variance in educational attainment,
IQ, and self-reported mathematical aptitude
), mediates the group difference.
Full mediation is not expected for two reasons.
First, the PGS used does not account for all of
the variance in the phenotypes of interest (5–
10%; Lee et al., 2018) and is thus a rather noisy
estimate of the genetic potential. Second, there
may also be contributions stemming from cul-
tural (i.e., environment) causes and additional
nonadditive genetic causes not captured by the
PGS (which captures additive effects only),
such as the heterozygote advantage for certain
carriers of sphingolipid disorders posited by
Cochran et al. (2006). Some indication of poly-
genic mediation is nevertheless what would be
expected if polygenic selection has played a role
in shaping the group differences with respect to
measures of cognitive ability.
Sample and Religious Orientation
Data were sourced from the Wisconsin Lon-
gitudinal Study (WLS). The WLS is a longitu-
dinal study of randomly sampled Wisconsin
high school students beginning in 1957; the last
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
wave of data collection was in 2011. The 1957
sample included 10,317 Wisconsin high school
seniors. The sample is overwhelmingly of Eu-
ropean descent (Herd, Carr, & Roan, 2014;
Sewell, Hauser, Springer, & Hauser, 2004), re-
flecting mid-20th century state demographics.
In the 1975 wave of data collection, partici-
pants were asked, “What was the main religious
preference of your family in 1957?” A total of
76 options were coded, but for the public re-
lease data set, the codes were collapsed into 17
categories. For the current analyses, three of the
17 categories were used (Catholic, Lutheran,
and Jewish). Catholic and Lutheran were cho-
sen because they are different religious orienta-
tions yet were also most strongly represented in
the original sample, n3690 for Catholic
(29.8% of the WLS sample) and n2619 for
Lutheran (21.2% of the WLS sample). No other
identifiable single orientation or denomination
accounted for more than 5% of the WLS sam-
ple. Beginning in 1977, a subsample of the orig-
inal participants’ siblings was also enrolled in
the study with iterations of sibling enrollment
occurring in the subsequent waves. Among the
original participants and siblings, we first se-
lected only those who had undergone genotyp-
ing. If both an original participant and a sibling
had undergone genotyping, we then randomly
selected from among the pair for inclusion in
the analyses. After these selection criteria, the
sample included 2,603 Catholics (51.2% fe-
male), 2,027 Lutherans (50.5% female), and 53
Jews (58.5% female).
A total of 9,012 WLS study participants were
genotyped on the Illumina HumanOmniExpress
array as part of the recent GWAS for IQ, edu-
cational attainment, and self-reported mathe-
matical ability (Lee et al., 2018). The genetic
samples came from saliva collected first in
2007–2008 and then during the course of home
interviews conducted initially in March 2010.
For full information on sampling and genotyp-
ing procedures, see
report.pdf. In the present study, the educational
attainment polygenic score was used. The edu-
cational attainment phenotype was defined
based on the International Standard Classifica-
tion of Education 1997 United Nations Educa-
tional, Scientific and Cultural Organization
classification, which is associated with seven,
internationally comparable categories of educa-
tional attainment, rescaled as U.S. years-of-
schooling equivalents (Lee et al., 2018). The
polygenic score for educational attainment used
in this analysis (PGS_EA3_MTAG) was com-
puted using multivariate analysis of educational
attainment along with data on cognitive perfor-
mance (evaluated using a single measure IQ test
from U.K. BioBank along with various neuro-
psychological functioning tests and IQ sub-
scales from Cognitive Genomics Consortium)
in addition to self-reported mathematical ability
and highest mathematics class successfully
completed. This multivariate PGS was selected
because it likely captures the largest degree of
shared (i.e., GCA-like) genetic variance com-
mon to these cognitive phenotypes. The PGS
were standardized (transformed to z-scores) to
aid interpretation.
Measures of Cognitive Ability in WLS
Henmon-Nelson Test of Mental Ability.
The Henmon-Nelson Test of Mental Ability is a
30-min test consisting of 90 items of increasing
difficulty in spatial, verbal, and mathematical
ability. Test administration was standardized
across the state of Wisconsin during the first
wave of data collection in 1957. The reliability
of the test is estimated to be high (␣⬇.95; e.g.,
Ganzach, 2016; Hansen, 1968; Harley, 1977)
and scores on the Henmon-Nelson test exhibit a
strong association (r.80 - .85) with full IQ
test scores (e.g., Wechsler Adult Intelligence
Scale [WAIS]) scores (Klett, Watson, & Hoff-
man, 1986; Kling, Davis, & Knost, 1978). The
WLS data file includes a variable labeled as
preferred measure of IQ based on the partici-
pant’s Henmon-Nelson test score, and this vari-
able was the one used in the current analyses. It
was found that siblings had a slightly higher
score than the original participants. Therefore,
the scores for each group were standardized
(transformed into z-scores) prior to merging.
Once the scores were merged, the scores were
transformed again so that the scores represent
IQ values.
Educational level. Education level was
measured in 1975 when participants were in
their mid-30’s. Participants reported their level
of education using a 9-point scale anchored at
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high school graduate or less,less than one year
of college, and PhD, MD, other doctorates not
previously included, and post doctorate educa-
Similarities. During the 1992–1993 wave
of data collection when participants were in
their early 50’s, they were interviewed over the
telephone. The interview included a brief cog-
nitive assessment. Eight items from the WAIS
similarities subtest were also used as the assess-
ment tool (sample item: In what way are air and
water alike?). A total score based on the eight
items was used in the analyses. The total was
standardized by transforming the values into
The correlation matrix for the study variables
for the full study sample can be seen in Table 1.
As seen in Table 1, all the variables were sig-
nificantly and positively correlated; most nota-
bly this includes the correlations between the
PGS and the three measures/proxies of GCA.
The descriptive statistics for the PGS and the
measures of cognitive ability for the three reli-
gious groups can be seen in Table 2. Addition-
ally, four one-way analysis of variance models
were run with religious orientation (Jewish,
Catholic, Lutheran) as the independent variable
with the dependent variables being the PGS and
the three measures of cognitive ability. As seen
in Table 2, all of the analyses of variance were
significant, with Tukey’s-b post hoc tests show-
ing that the Jewish group differed from the
Catholic and Lutheran groups on each variable,
whereas the Catholic and Lutheran groups did
not differ from each other on any variable. Note
that the difference between Jews and the Cath-
olic and Lutheran groups is larger (as measured
by standard deviation units) for educational at-
tainment. This could be due to the measurement
error in measures of GCA or the heightened
effect of differences between groups in genetic
composition and cultural importance placed on
Furthermore, after creating groups of equiv-
alent size, we conducted a random sampling
analysis by taking a subsample of Christians the
same size as the Jewish sample and then ran t
tests looking at the group differences in PGS.
This was done 1,000 times. Each time the p
value of the ttest was recorded. The plot of the
log10 (pvalues) can be seen in the online sup-
plemental material. The mean pvalue for equiv-
alent groups is p.000000001. Thus, it is
reasonably concluded that the effect is reliable.
To illustrate the differences between the Jewish
and two Christian groups, we combined the two
Christian groups and computed Cohen’s dfor
PGS and IQ. For PGS Cohen’s d1.33, which
is a very large effect size. For IQ, Cohen’s d
.57, which is a medium effect size. These group
differences are portrayed in Figure 1.
Next, we tested for the possibility that the
PGS mediates the association between religious
orientation and cognitive ability. The mediation
model and the associated components can be
seen in Figure 2. The PROCESS macro for
SPSS (Hayes, 2012) was utilized for testing for
mediation, and following the recommendations
of Zhao, Lynch, and Chen (2010), the output
from the bootstrap test for the indirect effect
was used as an indicator of mediation. Prior to
analyses, two dummy coded religious orienta-
tion variables were created; one variable (Cath-
olic 1 and Jewish 2) and the other (Lu-
theran 1 and Jewish 2). Thus, for each
GCA index, two analyses were performed: first
with the Jewish-Catholic dummy variable and
second with the Jewish-Lutheran dummy vari-
able. The dummy coded religious orientation
variable was entered as the X variable, the PGS
was entered as the mediator, and the GCA index
was entered as the Y variable. In PROCESS the
number of bootstrap samples was kept at the
default of 5,000, the confidence intervals were
kept at 95%, and the mediation model was set to
the specified model (i.e., Model 4).
Zhao et al. (2010) recommend reporting the
mean value of the indirect path (ab) and
the associated 95% confidence interval from the
bootstrap method. As seen in Table 3, the con-
fidence intervals for the indirect path for each
Table 1
Bivariate Correlations Between Study Variables
Variables PGS IQ
Years of
education Similarities
IQ .31 —
Educational level .28 .44
Similarities .21 .46 .36
Note. PGS polygenic scores. All correlations are sig-
nificant at p.001, N5513– 6256.
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analysis did not include zero, indicating signif-
icant mediation. Zhao et al. (2010) also recom-
mend reporting the unstandardized regression
coefficients to enhance the interpretation of the
results. For example, it was consistently found,
across analyses, that moving from Lutheran or
Catholic to the Jewish religious category (path a
in Table 3) resulted in a .21- or .22-unit increase
in PGS. An additional analysis, included in the
online supplemental material, showed that re-
sults remained when controlling for family so-
cioeconomic status.
In the present study, we found that Jews in
a large cohort had higher GCA, educational
attainment, and similarities scores than non-
Jews and that this group difference was par-
tially mediated by a PGS constructed from a
recent GWAS for GCA-related traits. There
are a number of limitations to the present
analysis. First, the number of Jews was rela-
tively small at n53 and may therefore be
unrepresentative, although it appears that
contemporaneous Wisconsin Jews are fairly
representative of the U.S. Jewish population
in terms of socioeconomic characteristics (see
Appendix for analysis). Second, the PGS used
was only a poor estimate of the genetic po-
tential, which would by definition be equal to
the additivity value of IQ in terms of trait-
variance explained. Depending on which part
of the variance of the genetic potential this
proxy captures, it might affect the results in
unknown ways. Third, we relied on religious
denomination as a proxy for Jewish ancestry.
If the ubiquitous negative relationship be-
tween IQ and religiosity that has been noted
in Western populations (e.g., Kanazawa,
2010; Zuckerman, Silberman, & Hall, 2013)
extends to the Jewish population, then it
might be the case that by excluding nonreli-
gious Jews (who will simply not self-identify
as such for the purposes of listing religious
affiliation), we lowered the mean IQ for the
Jewish sample. We believe this to be a minor
problem because relatively few people, Jews
included, were nonreligious in 1975 when the
survey item was asked. Furthermore, the
Christian comparison group has the same
problem, which means both Group IQs are
biased in the same direction and the relative
difference is thus not likely to be strongly
Table 2
Descriptive Statistics and ANOVA Results by Religious Orientation
Religious Orientation
ANOVAJewish Catholic Lutheran
PGS 1.37 (1.07) .01 (.99) .04 (.98) F(2, 4680) 52.88, p.001
IQ 109.72 (14.36) 101.48 (14.43) 101.36 (14.66) F(2, 4554) 8.41, p.001
Educational level 5.62 (2.12) 2.45 (2.17) 2.39 (2.13) F(2, 4183) 51.57, p.001
Similarities .42 (.94) .06 (.98) .02 (.96) F(2, 4438) 4.34, p.05
Note. PGS polygenic scores. Standard deviations are in parentheses.
Figure 1. Distribution of Jewish and Christian IQ and
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affected (Kanazawa, 2010). Fourth, the PGS
was derived from a GWAS that consisted
mostly of European descent peoples, with
probably only a minor contribution from
Jews. To the degree in which the Jewish pop-
ulation differs genetically from the training
sample, this may reduce the validity of the
derived PGS. However, as was discussed in
the introductory text, Ashkenazi Jews (a re-
cently admixed population) are very closely
related to the training sample used in the
GWAS (Tian et al., 2008), and any reduction
in PGS validity is thus quite minimal, given
that F
is strongly and positively associated
with linkage decay (Scutari et al., 2016).
Given the above limitations, we consider the
present results to be tentative and in need of
replication with better PGS data and larger
samples of the Jewish population. Our find-
ings nonetheless yield an initial positive indi-
cation of the polygenic selection model and
critically indicate that in the case of the Jew-
ish versus non-Jewish Caucasian comparison,
the same source of genetic variance that gives
rise to of individual differences in GCA also
contributes substantially to the group differ-
ence. This militates against a substantive role
for Factor Xs (i.e., factors that create differ-
ences between groups but do not influence
individual-level variation) in the etiology of
this particular group difference (for discus-
sion of this, see Jensen, 1998, p. 446).
It finally needs to be stressed that these
findings do not militate against the other mod-
els considered in the introductory text. Rare
variants associated with lipid storage disor-
ders may indeed confer a heterozygote advan-
tage, which may have augmented the Jewish
Group GCA above that which would be pre-
dicted by differences in the level of PGS
alone, perhaps accounting for the relatively
higher frequencies of these disorders in this
population. Direct tests of this model still
need to be carried out, however.
Whereas purely cultural vertical transmis-
sion models involving the passing down
across the generations of the Talmudic Tradi-
tion are unlikely to be causative of the Jewish
advantage in GCA, it is possible that the
Jewish cultural practice of scholarship co-
evolved with, and indeed influenced, via cul-
ture-gene coevolution, Jewish group-level
characteristics, including their high average
GCA (MacDonald, 1994). It is important to
also stress the potential role played by social
epistasis (the moderating effect of a group’s
average PGS on the expressivity of an indi-
vidual’s PGS on a trait of interest, as captured
by the correlation between the PGS and that
trait) in maintaining traits within a group.
Social epistasis effects have been found to
influence educational attainment in human
populations (Domingue et al., 2018); the pat-
terns and rules governing these genetic inter-
actions might therefore constitute a source of
genetic nurture and may potentially be an impor-
tant component of the Jewish cultural inheritance
system that could be profitably researched in fu-
ture work.
Table 3
Mediation Analyses
Variables ab95% CI ab C
Jewish-Catholic 5.75 [4.31, 7.33] .21 26.90 2.61
Jewish-Lutheran 5.95 [4.52, 7.48] .21 29.00 2.28
Educational level
Jewish-Catholic .74 [.55, .95] .21 3.48 2.24
Jewish-Lutheran .73 [.53, .95] .22 3.29 2.28
Jewish-Catholic .27 [.19, .35] .21 1.26 .09
Jewish-Lutheran .26 [.18, .34] .22 1.19 .14
Note.CIconfidence interval.
Figure 2. Generalized mediation model.
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(Appendix follows)
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Supplemental analysis 1: The representativeness of Wisconsin Jews
It is possible, although unlikely, that the Jew-
ish population in Wisconsin is an outlier in
terms of socioeconomic status among Jewish
populations in the US. This possibility is diffi-
cult to investigate since there are no large stud-
ies of Jewish educational attainment by state.
Instead, to get an approximate estimate, we look
at the income of federal employees in 2017 and
compare the income of Jews to the income of
non-Jews in different states. The assumption is
that if the Jewish population in Wisconsin in
previous generations was an outlier compared
to other states, we would also see a higher
average income among the Jewish population in
Wisconsin in 2017. We acquired 446,603 fed-
eral salaries of people living in the largest cities
in the US from the Federal DataCenter, includ-
ing 14,828 salaries of people with Jewish an-
cestry as determined by surname. For every
person we calculate the relative salary, which is
the salary of that person divided by the mean
salary in the location at which the person works.
Finally, we look at whether the relative salaries
of Jews in Wisconsin cities is higher than the
relative salaries in other US states. We find that
the mean relative salary of Jews compared to
non-Jews is the same in Wisconsin as the US
average. This finding holds when using log
transformed salaries. The boxplots for the rela-
tive log transformed salaries are shown in Fig-
ure A1.
Received August 13, 2018
Revision received November 11, 2018
Accepted November 14, 2018
Figure A1. The relative (log-transformed) salaries of Jews
compared to non-Jews in Wisconsin vs other US states.
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... For example, Warne (2020a) extrapolated from admixture data in African Americans and Hispanic Americans to predict that individuals with European heritage admixed with ancestry from groups with higher average scores on intelligence tests, such as East Asians, should have a negative correlation between the proportion of their European ancestry and their intelligence test score. It is plausible that Warne's (2020a) hypothesis will be supported in such admixture tests; in one study of White Americans, individuals with ancestry from European Jews, the ethnic group with the highest average intelligence test score in the world, had higher polygenic scores for intelligence than sample members from other European groups (Dunkel, Woodley of Menie, Pallesen, & Kirkegaard, 2019). If admixture studies of European Jews and East Asians show a negative correlation between intelligence test scores and non-Jewish European ancestry, then it would indicate that people with high intelligence are more likely to have, on average, more genetic variants associated with higher intelligence, plus some environmental advantages (Warne, 2020a). ...
The past 30 years of research in intelligence has produced a wealth of knowledge about the causes and consequences of differences in intelligence between individuals, and today mainstream opinion is that individual differences in intelligence are caused by both genetic and environmental influences. Much more contentious is the discussion over the cause of mean intelligence differences between racial or ethnic groups. In contrast to the general consensus that interindividual differences are both genetic and environmental in origin, some claim that mean intelligence differences between racial groups are completely environmental in origin, whereas others postulate a mix of genetic and environmental causes. In this article I discuss 5 lines of research that provide evidence that mean differences in intelligence between racial and ethnic groups are partially genetic. These lines of evidence are findings in support of Spearman’s hypothesis, consistent results from tests of measurement invariance across American racial groups, the mathematical relationship that exists for between-group and within-group sources of heritability, genomic data derived from genome-wide association studies of intelligence and polygenic scores applied to diverse samples, and admixture studies. I also discuss future potential lines of evidence regarding the causes of average group differences across racial groups. However, the data are not fully conclusive, and the exact degree to which genes influence intergroup mean differences in intelligence is not known. This discussion applies only to native English speakers born in the United States and not necessarily to any other human populations.
... One such theory focuses on genetic factors. It asserts that genes prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews (roughly three-quarters of world Jewry) contribute to relatively efficient neural functioning and abnormally high intelligence (Dunkel et al. 2019). 5 The evolutionary mechanisms presumably responsible for 2 We identified Jews using online biographies that are cited mainly in Wikipedia. ...
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In this paper we propose an empirically grounded theory of the relatively high level of intellectual attainment of Jews. Two main theories of Jewish intellectual attainment already exist, one genetic, the other cultural. Unfortunately, both theories posit causal mechanisms that change little and/or too slowly to account for variation in Jewish intellectual attainment over relatively short time periods, including the apparent decline that is now occurring in Western societies. In contrast, our alternative explanation highlights the causal importance of sociological circumstances. We contend that a population’s intellectual attainment is proportional to the degree to which its members (1) belong to a first generation to enjoy relatively abundant opportunities for the intellectual attainment of their children and (2) possess sufficient resources to enable their children to effectively compete for these opportunities. Where these conditions weaken, so too does the observed level of intellectual attainment. We render our theory plausible by examining a century of change in the ethnic composition of graduates from the University of Toronto Medical School, one of the world’s premier institutions for the training of physicians. While a rigorous test of our theory is beyond the scope of this work, we present evidence that is consistent with our theory and inconsistent with the genetic and cultural theories.
... Responses were summed to produce a total score (range = 0-12), with higher scores indicating higher levels of cognitive ability. This subtest is primarily considered a measure of crystallized intelligence (i.e., accumulated knowledge developed through a lifetime of experiences, Lindenberger, 2001) and has been used to assess older adult's cognitive ability (Dunkel et al., 2019). ...
Objectives: Elder abuse victimization is increasingly recognized as a pressing public health concern. However, few empirical studies have investigated whether early life course adversities and midlife sequelae heighten risks for abuse in late life. Guided by cumulative disadvantage theory, the current study examined whether compromised health in middle adulthood (physical, psychological, cognitive) mediates the association between child abuse and elder abuse. Methods: This secondary analysis was based on data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a population-based, multi-wave dataset. We analyzed responses from 5,968 participants (mean age = 71 years; 54% female) on adapted versions of standardized measures: elder abuse victimization (outcome variable), childhood adversities (independent variable), and midlife health (physical health, depressive symptoms, cognitive functioning; mediator variables). Serial multiple mediation models were conducted, controlling for background characteristics. Results: Rates for any elder abuse and child adversities were, respectively, 16.34% and 47.98%. Multivariate analyses supported the cumulative disadvantage hypothesis. Childhood adversities (0.11, p < .001) and midlife health (physical, -0.10, p < .05; depressive symptoms, 0.09, p < .001; cognitive functioning, 0.02, p < .05) had significant direct effects on elder abuse victimization. Childhood adversities also had an indirect effect on elder abuse through physical health (0.002, p < .05) and depressive symptoms (0.01, p < .001), both in serial. Discussion: This innovative study advances our understanding mechanisms through which childhood trauma influences abuse in late life. Boosting health in middle adulthood could help prevent elder abuse. Other implications for clinical practice, treatment, and future research on elder abuse are discussed.
... Davide Piffer published the first study relating population differences in intelligence (or the more vague 'cognitive ability') to frequencies of alleles associated with intelligence or education (Piffer, 2013). He has continued this up to the present day (Piffer, 2015(Piffer, , 2019; see also Lasker et al., 2019;Dunkel et al., 2019). However, there is not a single reference to Piffer's groundbreaking work in Human Diversity. ...
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Human Diversity is Charles Murray’s latest book. This review evaluates the claims made in the book and places both the author’s theses and their criticisms in their historical context. It concludes that this book is valuable as an updated summary of current knowledge about psychological differences (in the averages) between genders, races, and social classes. As such it is a useful introduction into the field for everyone interested in it.
... Jews are not represented in the 1000 Genomes data set, but when the new gnomAD data set is used, the obtainable polygenic scores are predictive of a higher average IQ for Ashkenazi Jews than for East Asians (Piffer, 2019a; see also Dunkel et al., 2019). ...
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This paper offers a review of some of the empirical literature on economic growth and discusses its recent evolution in light of developments in intelligence research and genomics. The paper also undertakes the first regression analysis of economic growth to use the most up-to-date version (VI.3.2) of David Becker's data set of international IQ scores. The analysis concerns the growth of 94 countries from 1995-2016. The new regression analysis replicates the results of Jones and Schneider (2006) in finding IQ to have a robust impact on economic growth. Political and economic institutions are represented in the regressions via a country's "degree of capitalism" (aka "economic freedom"), which is found to have an impact that is positive and statistically significant. A change from communism to a market economy does much to increase growth, but the paper finds diminishing returns to free markets. Countries whose people are mostly of sub-Saharan African descent have low average IQ scores, but the paper finds that other factors also have lessened economic growth not only in Africa, but in Haiti and Jamaica as well. Rushton and Jensen (2005, 2010) put forth the hypothesis that average IQ differences across ethnic groups are 50% due to genetic differences, and 50% due to differences in natural and social environments. Applied to international IQ scores, the paper finds the hypothesis to be very reasonable.
... Davide Piffer published the first study relating population differences in intelligence (or the more vague 'cognitive ability') to frequencies of alleles associated with intelligence or education (Piffer, 2013). He has continued this up to the present day (Piffer, 2015(Piffer, , 2019; see also Lasker et al., 2019;Dunkel et al., 2019). However, there is not a single reference to Piffer's groundbreaking work in Human Diversity. ...
Full-text available
Human Diversity is Charles Murray’s latest book. This review evaluates the claims made in the book and places both the author’s theses and their criticisms in their historical context. It concludes that this book is valuable as an updated summary of current knowledge about psychological differences (in the averages) between genders, races, and social classes. As such it is a useful introduction into the field for everyone interested in it.
There is a long history of academic and non-academic activism directed against those areas of social-scientific research, specifically behavior genetics and differential psychology (especially intelligence research) , that seek to understand the determinants of variation in socially significant psychological and behavioral traits and outcomes. This research becomes particularly controversial when it addresses the potential genetic contributions to differences between population groups, e.g. studies of socially important variables such as intelligence and any variation in them between "racial" or "ethnic" groups. . We consider recent controversies related to these areas of inquiry. Crucial among these is an attempt to brand science on population differences as part of a particular form of rightist political activism, aiming to insert justifications for “White nationalism” and related ideologies into scientific, political, and public discourse. Unfortunately, the coherence of this thesis depends heavily on guilt-by-association allegations and suppression of conflicting evidence. We begin with a more general review of controversies in the disciplines at issue and then review, and further challenge, the specific argument concerning such political activism. We subsequently argue that these criticisms might themselves be embedded within a program of egalitarian activism/left-wing activism, which includes certain scholars and scientists working in relevant fields (e.g., sociogenomics), who aim to ensure that science is both conducted and presented to the public in ways that could only further egalitarian moral-political goals. Ultimately, this egalitarian activism is harmful, as it has broader chilling effects on research and science communication (claims for which we offer empirical evidence), and ethics, as it risks fomenting political polarization. To be sure, those on the political right are not innocent either. Many have engaged in behavior that has fanned the flames of controversy in these areas of science and have spread erroneous ideas about findings in them. It would be ideal if efforts were made to depoliticize social science in particular to the greatest extent possible, but a more productive course of action might involve critical introspection and the active pursuit of lines of research that challenge potential misconceptions.
The search for genetic risk factors underlying the presumed heritability of all human behavior has unfolded in two phases. The first phase, characterized by candidate-gene-association (CGA) studies, has fallen out of favor in the behavior-genetics community, so much so that it has been referred to as a “cautionary tale.” The second and current iteration is characterized by genome-wide association studies (GWASs), single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) heritability estimates, and polygenic risk scores. This research is guided by the resurrection of, or reemphasis on, Fisher’s “infinite infinitesimal allele” model of the heritability of complex phenotypes, first proposed over 100 years ago. Despite seemingly significant differences between the two iterations, they are united in viewing the discovery of risk alleles underlying heritability as a matter of finding differences in allele frequencies. Many of the infirmities that beset CGA studies persist in the era of GWASs, accompanied by a host of new difficulties due to the human genome’s underlying complexities and the limitations of Fisher’s model in the postgenomics era.
Objectives: Our aim in this study was to understand how genetics ideas are appropriated and mobilized online toward the political projects of White nationalism and the alt right. Studying three different online venues, we investigated how genetics is used to support racial realism, hereditarianism, and racial hierarchy. We analyzed how these ideas are connected to political and metapolitical projects. In addition, we examined the strategies used to build authority for these interpretations. Methods: We analyze three online venues in which genetics has been mobilized to advance racial realism and hereditarian explanations of racial differences. These were (a) the use of genetic ancestry tests in online nationalist discussions, (b) blogs and other venues in which the human biodiversity ideas are articulated, (c) activities surrounding the OpenPsych collection of online journals. Ethnographic and interpretive methods were applied to investigate scientific and political meanings of efforts to mobilize genetic ideas. Results: We found that White nationalists use genetic ancestry tests to align White identity with ideas of racial purity and diversity, educating each other about genetics, and debating the boundaries of Whiteness. "Human biodiversity" has been mobilized as a movement to catalog and create hereditarian ideas about racial differences and to distribute them as "red pills" to transform online discourse. The OpenPsych journals have allowed amateur hereditarian psychologists to publish papers, coordinate activity, and legitimate their project at the academic margins. Conclusions: These various appropriations of genetics aim to further racial realism and hereditarian explanations of racial social and behavioral differences. Beyond these substantive aims, on a "metapolitical" level, they serve to reframe concepts and standards for political and scientific discussion of race, challenge structures of academic legitimacy and expertise, and build a cadre of ideological foot soldiers armed with an argumentative toolkit. As professional anthropologists and geneticists aim to accurately communicate their science and its implications for understanding human differences to the public, they must contend with these substantive claims and metapolitical contexts.
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MacDonald argues that a suite of genetic and cultural adaptations among Jews constitutes a “group evolutionary strategy.” Their supposed genetic adaptations include, most notably, high intelligence, conscientiousness, and ethnocentrism. According to this thesis, several major intellectual and political movements, such as Boasian anthropology, Freudian psychoanalysis, and multiculturalism, were consciously or unconsciously designed by Jews to (a) promote collectivism and group continuity among themselves in Israel and the diaspora and (b) undermine the cohesion of gentile populations, thus increasing the competitive advantage of Jews and weakening organized gentile resistance (i.e., anti-Semitism). By developing and promoting these movements, Jews supposedly played a necessary role in the ascendancy of liberalism and multiculturalism in the West. While not achieving widespread acceptance among evolutionary scientists, this theory has been enormously influential in the burgeoning political movement known as the “alt-right.” Examination of MacDonald’s argument suggests that he relies on systematically misrepresented sources and cherry-picked facts. It is argued here that the evidence favors what is termed the “default hypothesis”: Because of their above-average intelligence and concentration in influential urban areas, Jews in recent history have been overrepresented in all major intellectual and political movements, including conservative movements, that were not overtly anti-Semitic.
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Human populations living during the Holocene underwent considerable microevolutionary change. It has been theorized that the transition of Holocene populations into agrarianism and urbanization brought about culture-gene co-evolution that favored via directional selection genetic variants associated with higher general cognitive ability (GCA). To examine whether GCA might have risen during the Holocene, we compare a sample of 99 ancient Eurasian genomes (ranging from 4.56 to 1.21 kyr BP) with a sample of 503 modern European genomes ( F st = 0.013), using three different cognitive polygenic scores (130 SNP, 9 SNP and 11 SNP). Significant differences favoring the modern genomes were found for all three polygenic scores (odds ratios = 0.92, p = 001; .81, p = 037; and .81, p = .02 respectively). These polygenic scores also outperformed the majority of scores assembled from random SNPs generated via a Monte Carlo model (between 76.4% and 84.6%). Furthermore, an indication of increasing positive allele count over 3.25 kyr was found using a subsample of 66 ancient genomes ( r = 0.22, p one-tailed = .04). These observations are consistent with the expectation that GCA rose during the Holocene.
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The prediction of phenotypic traits using high-density genomic data has many applications such as the selection of plants and animals of commercial interest; and it is expected to play an increasing role in medical diagnostics. Statistical models used for this task are usually tested using cross-validation, which implicitly assumes that new individuals (whose phenotypes we would like to predict) originate from the same population the genomic prediction model is trained on. In this paper we investigate the effect of increasing genetic distance between training and target populations when predicting quantitative traits. This is important for plant and animal genetics, where genomic selection programs rely on the precision of predictions in future rounds of breeding. Therefore, estimating how quickly predictive accuracy decays is important in deciding which training population to use and how often the model has to be recalibrated. We find that the correlation between true and predicted values decays approximately linearly with respect to either $\F$ or mean kinship between the training and the target populations. We illustrate this relationship using simulations and a collection of data sets from mice, wheat and human genetics.
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Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence (NHAI) provides a novel answer to a long-standing question: why do Jews of Ashkenazi ancestry carry so many recessive genes for harmful conditions? It argues that in heterozygotes, these alleles substantially increase intelligence. For 800 years, Ashkenazi were confined to professions demanding high cognitive skills. Those with the alleles prospered, and had more surviving children, thus selecting for the alleles in the population. This thesis has received widespread media and web attention, and represents a growing tendency to explain psychological differences between populations as due to different genes. This article challenges NHAl, showing so many points of improbability, that the entire hypothesis is highly unlikely. The main criticisms are: (a) Contrary to NHAI's argument that the inherited conditions are due to selection, population bottlenecks and drift remain strong explanations of their frequency, and consistent with historical information. (b) In NHAl, less than half of all inherited conditions have even a suggested pathway to higher intelligence. (c) The inference that genes which stimulate aspects of neural growth are linked to higher intelligence is pure speculation predicated on a simplistic view of neurological development. (d) The claimed connection between three specific conditions and higher IQ has virtually no empirical support whatever. (e) The demonstrated IQ advantage of Ashkenazi Jews as a whole is less than asserted. (f) The multi-point IQ boosts proposed for specific genes are very inconsistent with current research on the genetics ofIQ. (g) Even within the mainstream ofIQ research, which emphasizes geneticlbiological bases, the extent of Ashkenazi IQ advantage is easily accommodated as due to enviromnent. (h) The "Talmudic Tradition" of emphasizing learning and abstract reasoning provides a clear cultural explanation for higher IQ among Ashkenazi. In Ashkenazi history, NHAI's assumption that higher intelligence led to greater income is contradicted by (1) a rigid system of social stratification, G) the critical importance for amassing
Through genome-wide association studies (GWASs), researchers have identified hundreds of genetic variants associated with particular complex traits. Previous studies have compared the pattern of association signals across different populations in real data, and these have detected differences in the strength and sometimes even the direction of GWAS signals. These differences could be due to a combination of (1) lack of power (insufficient sample sizes); (2) minor allele frequency (MAF) differences (again affecting power); (3) linkage disequilibrium (LD) differences (affecting power to ‘tag’ the causal variant); and (4) true differences in causal variant effect sizes (defined by relative risks). In the present work, we sought to assess whether the first three of these reasons are sufficient on their own to explain the observed incidence of trans-ethnic differences in replications of GWAS signals, or whether the fourth reason is also required. We simulated case-control data of European, Asian and African ancestry, drawing on observed MAF and LD patterns seen in the 1000-Genomes reference dataset and assuming the true causal relative risks were the same in all three populations. We found that a combination of Euro-centric SNP selection and between-population differences in LD, accentuated by the lower SNP density typical of older GWAS panels, was sufficient to explain the rate of trans-ethnic differences previously reported, without the need to assume between-population differences in true causal SNP effect size. This suggests a cross-population consistency that has implications for our understanding of the interplay between genetics and environment in the aetiology of complex human diseases.
We examine the association between cognitive ability and party identity in the United States on the basis of two large databases. Contrary to recent findings (Carl, 2014a, 2014b) we find that when socio-economic status and race are controlled for, there are very few associations between the two.
Although a topic not openly discussed, Jews are extravagantly overrepresented, relative to their numbers, in the top ranks of the arts, sciences, law, medicine, finance, entrepreneurship and the media. In view of the fact that Jewish accomplishment constitutes a fascinating and important story, this paper covers three topics that has to do with expanding the understanding of the origins of Jewish intelligence. The first is the timing and nature of Jewish accomplishment, focusing on the arts and sciences, followed by elevated Jewish intelligence quotient (IQ) as an explanation for that accomplishment and finally the current theories about how the Jews acquired their elevated IQ.
In 70 CE, the Jews were an agrarian and illiterate people living mostly in the Land of Israel and Mesopotamia. By 1492 the Jewish people had become a small group of literate urbanites specializing in crafts, trade, moneylending, and medicine in hundreds of places across the Old World, from Seville to Mangalore. What caused this radical change?The Chosen Fewpresents a new answer to this question by applying the lens of economic analysis to the key facts of fifteen formative centuries of Jewish history. Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein show that, contrary to previous explanations, this transformation was driven not by anti-Jewish persecution and legal restrictions, but rather by changes within Judaism itself after 70 CE--most importantly, the rise of a new norm that required every Jewish male to read and study the Torah and to send his sons to school. Over the next six centuries, those Jews who found the norms of Judaism too costly to obey converted to other religions, making world Jewry shrink. Later, when urbanization and commercial expansion in the newly established Muslim Caliphates increased the demand for occupations in which literacy was an advantage, the Jews found themselves literate in a world of almost universal illiteracy. From then forward, almost all Jews entered crafts and trade, and many of them began moving in search of business opportunities, creating a worldwide Diaspora in the process. The Chosen Fewoffers a powerful new explanation of one of the most significant transformations in Jewish history while also providing fresh insights to the growing debate about the social and economic impact of religion.