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It's perhaps surprising that an alternative solution, that Jews are disproportionately successful because of the blessing of השם, is not mentioned in your post, and is mentioned in Noah's only to note that he will not be considering it.

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Any chance anyone has data on the percentage of Jewish children born to married parents over time vs. other ethnicities?

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We are a people with a deep connection to Jewish sacred texts and at the same time a people who were persecuted for that connection. That persecution bound us closer to our books, The modern world is a world of words not muscle. That's my explanation.

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My paternal grandparents were both Jews who emigrated to America separately before World War I. My grandfather was the son of a Polish cobbler (and the first person in his family who was taught to read). My grandmother was the daughter of a Russian rabbi who was killed in a pogrom and who walked out of Russia without any other family as part of a group of people emigrating to America via Hamburg. Both came from small villages and neither could have been considered anything but poor.

"But maybe the Jewish advantage will turn out to be cultural."

That seems the more plausible answer, if one is willing to consider that cultural norms can be embedded very deeply into individuals. The millennia-old respect for learning and scholarship that is so much a part of Jewish culture - as it is for Chinese culture as well - is the most likely candidate for a single cultural value that confers a systemic advantage upon a group.

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What does the horizontal scale on the chart represent?

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If the “groups should be represented according to their share of the population” (in college admissions, professions, etc.) standard were applied to Jews it would be devastating.

Luckily, Jews are “white” so for some reason it doesn’t count? And people decided Jewish quotas were immoral discrimination but Asian quotas (not explicit ones, admittedly) are somehow ok? This doesn’t make any sense on principle, and I don’t think it’s sustainable. I hope we end up with “discrimination is bad”.

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Regarding the last paragraph:

Anecdotal, of course, but in my Jewish upbringing it was always said or implied that Jewish success was partly due to a culture considerably more education-focused than the norm. More educated people tend to be more successful and make more money, and we also see similar patterns among other immigrants with strong pro-education cultures; it can be joked that American Jews are basically the early 1900s equivalent of modern Asian Americans.

And this does make some sense: after all, the central text of Jewish life was not the Torah but the Talmud, which is the Torah plus the random comments, debates, and thoughts of a bunch of rabbis. And you can see it in other parts of Jewish culture, too: here's "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof:

If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack

To sit in the synagogue and pray.

And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.

And I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.

That would be the sweetest thing of all.

Perhaps it's no surprise that people growing up in that cultural milieu tended to make a lot of academic discoveries.

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I don't think scott has done cochran's argument much justice...part of it is overdominance at alleles governing certain cognitive traits, but it also allows for frequency changes of alleles with additive effect under selection, which would be less conspicuous than the diseased homozygotes.

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A related mystery about the Ashkenazim that I have not seen discussed: How come there are so damn many of us?

The notion of real genetic differences is rooted in the founder effect, which itself comes from a tremendous population bottleneck 600-800 years ago (probably the Crusades) which reduced the Ashkenazi Jewish population to about 350 people, and thanks to endogamy (marriage only within the clan) only 4 maternal groups account for 40-70% of the current Ashkenazi population. As a result, Jews have an unusual prevalence of Tay Sachs and Crohn's and other rare genetic diseases, and maybe(!) as a result have higher general intelligence as well. And these difference are mostly what we focus on when we talk about Ashkenazi exceptionalism.

But population is a mystery to me too. There are now maybe 10 million Ashkenazi in the world, an increase in population of 30,000-fold since the bottleneck. Meanwhile, since 1000 AD global population has increased by about 20X. European population has increased by maybe 15X. These differences are... not small. You can absolutely get to 30,000X with regular generational doublings over hundreds of years, but no one else seemed to. Maybe some of the reason that everyone's Jewish ancestors were so poor was because it was impossible to accumulate wealth with so many kids.

Anyway, I'd love to hear if anyone has any data on household size of Jews in Middle Age Europe, or similar. The explanation here is probably cultural, but it is as deserving of a rigorous explanation as the other phenomena, and I can't find one.

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> This isn't the way most American Jews remember their own history;

In my experience self-made wealthy people (sample size of 3-8 depending on how confident I want to be in my assessment of others wealth) all want to play up how they and their family were poor or had really hard circumstances of some sort to overcome.

Obviously, this doesn't prove anything, but something to consider...

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Surely it makes sense to consider several factors none of which explains all of a phenomenon and each of which adds a little. Some comments: 1. Surely the fact that travel to America was expensive kept out the poorest of the poor. The examples you give are mainly of people who were culturally middle class but had fallen on hard times. So what? The middle-class habitus was still there, together with the drive to move (back) upwards. And yes, all (voluntary) immigrants are self-selecting, though not necessarily quite in the same way. 2. Again, this is part of it. Obviously "such-and-such % of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, compared to % of the world population" is fallacious - what counts is the percentage of (not very poor) inhabitants of cities in wealthy countries. There's still a gap, but the ratio is what, the square root of what it would be otherwise? 3. Oh yes. See: Nobel Prize winners. (If anything, people of mixed ancestry and descendants of converts to Christianity are probably overrepresented in that list - vastly so up to the mid-20th century, once you consider that the rate of intermarriage anywhere pre-WWI was essentially nil, and conversion was always a trickle, relatively speaking.) 4 is a strong argument against racial explanations. It's also something that clarifies that, when we are talking about cultural explanations, we are not looking at anything intrinsic to the term "Jewish", or to Judaism (even if it may have had an effect in a refracted sort of way, or even by virtue of being left behind) but rather at the set of values and practices that immigrants from a particular class in particular parts of Europe had in 1880-1910. (In other words, part of what people still sometimes refer to as "Jewish", sometimes to the annoyance of some observant Jews; cultural images die hard.) None of this makes the matter less interesting - just less surprising. It also makes the phenomenon *more* relevant to discussions of other ethnic groups in the US and elsewhere; a unique or inexplicable phenomenon would be less relevant.

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My understanding of this issue is that Jews performed a "rural service minority" (https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/03/the-economic-ecology-of-jews-as-a-rural-service-minority.html) role in Europe that endowed them with commercial skills and values that ended up serving them very well in modernity relative to their Christian peasant counterparts. If your ancestors were a series of moneylenders and merchants and middlemen it makes a lot of sense to me that you'd be more likely to be drawn towards intellectual pursuits and high paying professional jobs compared to someone whose recent ancestors were in more traditional feudal roles.

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My Ashkenazi ancestors were both rich and poor. One set (grandmother's family) were relatively well-off Russians from Minsk. They left in the late 1880s, presumably motivated by the recent pogroms, and my great-grandfather who arrived as a teenager was valedictorian at his American high school and went on to become a lawyer. They were fine. I have assumed that they had sufficient old country wealth to enable this good start in the new one.

The other set were poor Galicianers; that great-grandfather was the youngest of six and wandered around as a performer/beggar/probably thief until he married and left for the US for better prospects.

Also, avoiding compulsory military service shows up a LOT in my family's history. Not just for those coming to the US, but crossing from Russia to Austria-Hungary or vice versa, hiding out with relatives, etc. I don't think the Russian army in 1860 was a pleasant place to be Jewish (or a pleasant place, period).

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Something I would like a demographer or historian much smarter than myself to investigate is a "creaming the top theory" to Jewish exceptionalism. Specifically that in addition to cultural norms like specializing in certain occupations and having high literacy and smart rabbis getting the girls and having more kids, there is also a negative selection pressure on the less successful Jews to remain Jewish over centuries of persecution, programs, holocaust etc. Maybe if you just want a normal, comfortable life you decide to convert and become a follower of orthodox Jesus in the 9th century or become Muslim in the 11th century and stop paying the dhimmi tax whereas only the truly exceptional people could afford to continue on their minority traditions. Or more negatively you get murdered or forced to convert during one of the many persecutions over the millennia and can't continue your line while the most successful among you managed to survive and continue your ancestors traditions.

What immediately makes me question this hypothesis though is the plight of the gypsies/Romani. They are similarly persecuted for a similar duration of history but on every social economic status dimension, they are near the bottom of European populations. Then again the Parsis in the indian subcontinent do mirror the Jews in achievement so that's another foil.

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From the abstract of this study https://www.nature.com/articles/nrg.2017.104 "Intelligence is highly heritable and predicts important educational, occupational and health outcomes better than any other trait." My theory: the survivors of centuries of pogroms may have survived partially because of their higher intelligence. Simultaneously, Jewish clannishness and cultural/religious separation from their Christian neighbors, combined with a much higher rate of consanguinity, may have contributed to keeping the markers associated with intelligence prominent. And, while it may be true today that higher intelligence correlates with 'important educational, occupational and health outcomes' that may not have been true in centuries past when socio-economic tiers were much more fixed. So, the low status of the immigrant forebears of today's 'successful Jews' doesn't preclude that many may have been highly intelligent. And in America, where one could more easily rise in socio-economic status based on performance, it would make sense that the grandson of a Jewish egg-candler from Galicia could be a university professor or an investment banker in the US today.

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"People act like genetic engineering would be some sort of horrifying mad science project to create freakish mutant supermen who can shoot acid out of their eyes."

No, I think people act like people who suggest genetic engineering are only ever about a half-second away from suggesting eugenics. I can't imagine what historical events might have instilled that fear in them.

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As far as the culture discussions go: Jewish culture has always placed a tremendous value on literacy and learning, including study (even memorization for quick recall) of enormous volumes of arcana and logical deduction from it. This obligation was not just for the rich, but applied (at least theoretically) to everyone. Literacy (and halakhic critical thinking skills) may have been relatively little help to a 17th century farmer, but it was a conceivably a major boon once commerce began to depend on written records, debt-bound transactions, insurance, or technological advances. If someone wants to dig into a cultural explanation, this seems an obvious place to start.

As far as timing goes, Jewish success starting in the early 19th century is likely related to Napoleon's tide washing over Europe. Jews were released from the ghettoes, in many places for the first time in centuries, and there was an increasing push to allow them to participate in broader civic society. The observation that there was little exceptional contribution to European learning prior to 1800 can be easily (though not necessarily correctly) explained by the segregation of Jews from most of Europe prior to then, and the major change wrought by the Napoleonic wars in most of the continent. Notably, Napoleon had relatively little impact on Russia, where the Jews in the 19th century achieved much less.

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Regarding the last few paragraphs, you are assuming that we can scale up whatever factors, be they cultural or biological, that produced Jewish achievement since the Haskalah and Jewish emancipation to the rest of Western society and the world. But what if that's not possible, because those factors are products of the Jews' idiosyncratic history (e.g. being a minority that is both prosecuted and allowed various privileges like money-lending when the Powers that be needed it)? It is sort of like suggestions that the US should copy Scandinavian or continental welfare models, or East Asian development models — good perhaps look for ideas, but is unwise to try to replicate wholesale, both because can't replicate the historical condition that creates those models, and you maybe importing some negative consequences that you might not know of.

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That Jewish immigrants to the US were lower quality than the European Jews is a somewhat surprising TIL to me (though of the 3% of my ancestry that is Jewish, a large part of them left Odessa for the US after the Revolution, which is an inversion of the usual pattern, but perhaps that is not that surprising considering they seem to have been well to do bourgeoisie who enjoyed posing for photos during the Imperial era). Would suggest that the Holocaust was even more destructive in human capital terms than you'd expect just be treating Ashkenazi Jews as a globally undifferentiated group (especially considering that the Ashkenazi Jews in Israel are, in turn, duller than the American ones).

PS. While I self-identify as a Russian nationalist, it's hard to see how I am far-right except perhaps if one pigeonholes all biorealists (a significant share of this blog's readership) as far-rightists. The original graph is from Burkina Faso, who is a pro-Soviet blogger, LOL.

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Now do Episcopalians.

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> I think this was a potentially reasonable strategy back when you could argue it would distract people away from getting too fired up about racial resentment. But at some point the cost of enshrining as dogma that all high-achieving ethnic groups are oppressors is greater than the benefit of “they haven’t applied this to us just yet.”

On the contrary I think if you want to give people a non-resentment-based explanation for why x are successful, you need to give alternative explanations that aren’t about inherent superiority. People not so flattered will largely reject these out of hand and have boundedly rational (or simply rational) reasons for doing so.

Of course, there’s a lot of direct, obvious evidence of whites benefitting from systematic oppression which doesn’t apply to Jews. But fundamentally I think there are a lot of weird path-dependent ways things can shake out that aren’t a function of individual characteristics or intentions; IMO this is *the* insight of sociology over baseline human intuitions. If Pakistani immigrants are (say) disproportionately cab drivers and convenience store owners, well, that *could* have an explanation in terms of discrimination, conspiracy, or inherent characteristics, but I’m guessing it has very little to do with any of the above. Having “uninteresting” explanations in our toolkit is good, and helps us avoid tumbling towards the disaster that is maximum interestingness.

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One possible, underexplored difference between Christian and Jewish achievement is that rabbis have been encouraged to have as many kids as possible while monks and nuns have been forbidden from having kids.

Anecdotally, many Jewish geniuses are the grandchildren of regionally-famous rabbis.

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My thought is that the cultural explanation is purely about education. Jewish people tends to seek higher education more, thus they tend to do better economically-- not really a mystery. It's an ever clearer fit when you look at Asian communities. Vastly different communities of Filipinos, Koreans, Chinese, all do well in America because they seem to push their kids towards education fairly hard. Nigerians and Indians do well because they make their kids get tertiary degrees. Why do Episcopalians do better than other Christian groups in America? Probably because they get more college degrees than other groups.

I think the only way to read this question is to ask why different groups acquire different levels of education. We might say it's a matter of genetics, but I'm not sure that makes much sense in light of the evidence-- after all, there's the famous data point that intelligence is more inheritable in the US than in Australia. Every group in America that highly values education seems to do pretty well.

Of course what remains to ask is why the Tuskegee Institute and its larger pro-education ideology didn't make Black Americans overachievers. For the record, I think you do have a lot of Black inventors popping up around this era. But it seems obvious that under legal segregation, lynching, and the like Black Americans were uniquely prevented from succeeding with this strategy.

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I think there's a qualitative difference between poor Jews that immigrated and similarly poor Jews who didn't, and this difference might explain at least some of the effect observed in America, although it does nothing for the effect outside America. The Jews that immigrated were the ones that looked around at the pogroms and left, instead of hunkering down and rebuilding. This shows a preference for drastic action, that is well suited to success in America (and especially for success "back-in-the-day".

In response to pogroms in Odessa I had relatives that stayed, and ancestors that left. They saw their family business burnt and confiscated and didn't rebuild. They left, first to Poland then to the USA (many coming via Canada in a years-long process). This prior for action, that all/almost all of the immigrants to the USA during this time period have in their genetics/culture seems a better explanation than intelligence or cultural explanations focused on reading.

This is also reflected in the (frankly ridiculous) list of jobs/careers common among those generations. Peddler to gas station owner to carnie to whatever-else it took, and wherever else, to make a living and keep getting back at it. That's the difference, it's an entire population of people that selected for taking action.

I think you can also contrast this with Irish, Italian, Scottish and Germany immigration to America. Many of those groups came because of incredible multi-generational poverty that ground them for a prolonged time period vs general middle class lifestyle followed by sudden and violent descent to lower class.

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That was freaking glorious. Thank you ever so much.

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I was surprised to see that 3% of Jews in the Pale were in the military, forming 6% of all people with that occupation there. Based on the Appollonian/Mercurian distinction Yuri Slezkine wrote about in "The Jewish Century", I would have expected them to be underrepresented.

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Here’s another possible factor: selective pressure for intelligence. Has any other identifiable human population benefited in terms of reproductive fitness in knowing when and how to hide, when and how to leave, how to travel with children, and how to function safely in new societies for as long as the Jews have? For about 3500 years, being smarter made it a little more likely that your Jewish genes would continue. This was probably significant for most Jews right into the 20th Century. And, related to the One Drop point, if you managed to completely assimilate, you ceased to be counted as a Jew.

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Reflecting on my own upbringing, I noticed two big recurring messages:

1. High in-group preference repeatedly emphasized (do most groups teach this?). Not in the sense of looking down on other groups, more like: It's important that you're Jewish, and you should be nice to everybody, but you should especially be nice to fellow Jews.

2. Our oral/educational tradition is important to us. Actually, it's so important that if you want to engage with your heritage, you will have to learn an entire goddamn language. Have fun!

And I think somewhere between those two, you have a recipe for at least longterm affiliation and survival, if not necessarily excellence. How normal is it to emphasize these two priorities? Can anyone speak to, say, a Chinese, or Indian, or WASPy upbringing?

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If the difference were cultural, we wouldn't you get these results for Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews? Does anyone think that all those top scientists of the 20th century had the same natural abilities as the rest of us? There is strong evidence that Ashkenazi Jews have higher cognitive abilities, and that this is one of the primary reasons for the disproportionate success.

It's not one of the most interesting mysteries in the world. But figuring out a way to avoid a conversation about heritability and intelligence... that's one of the most stimulating puzzles in the world.

"If genetic engineering could give those advantages to everyone..."

- Eugenics would be simpler and more popular than genetic engineering

- Eugenics isn't popular

- It's so unpopular that we have full-on dysgenic policies in place

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In addition to possible differences in conscientiousness and other controversial traits, the gaps between the outcomes are likely the same due in part to average African American IQ being 85, White being 100 and Ashkenazi Jewish IQ being 115. I would think this is worth mentioning, however if you mention this and genetics you have now dipped into the IQ debate. You seem skeptical that the explanation is cultural and you seem skeptical that Smith is adequately explaining these gaps. I hope it is okay for me to ask this question but why are you able to discuss differences in ability due to genetic causes between Jews and non-Jews but intelligence differences between races evokes this reaction:

>This is far enough from my field that I would usually defer to expert consensus, but all the studies I can find which try to assess expert consensus seem crazy. A while ago, I freaked out upon finding a study that seemed to show most expert scientists in the field agreed with Murray's thesis in 1987 - about three times as many said the gap was due to a combination of genetics and environment as said it was just environment. Then I freaked out again when I found another study (here is the most recent version, from 2020) showing basically the same thing (about four times as many say it’s a combination of genetics and environment compared to just environment). I can't find any expert surveys giving the expected result that they all agree this is dumb and definitely 100% environment and we can move on (I'd be very relieved if anybody could find those, or if they could explain why the ones I found were fake studies or fake experts or a biased sample, or explain how I'm misreading them or that they otherwise shouldn't be trusted. If you have thoughts on this, please send me an email). I've vacillated back and forth on how to think about this question so many times, and right now my personal probability estimate is "I am still freaking out about this, go away go away go away". And I understand I have at least two potentially irresolveable biases on this question: one, I'm a white person in a country with a long history of promoting white supremacy; and two, if I lean in favor then everyone will hate me, and use it as a bludgeon against anyone I have ever associated with, and I will die alone in a ditch and maybe deserve it. So the best I can do is try to route around this issue when considering important questions. This is sometimes hard, but the basic principle is that I'm far less sure of any of it than I am sure that all human beings are morally equal and deserve to have a good life and get treated with respect regardless of academic achievement.

The obvious next question if Ashkenazi success is due in part to genetics is what about other racial gaps? I find it odd that you would touch on this issue when you try to route around a very similar issue with regard to race. And if Smith is employing the same "routing" around the issue with regards to Jewish accomplishment, can you blame him if you do the same with racial differences in intelligence?

I don't believe you're obligated to talk about genetics, differences between groups in outcomes, culture war issues and so forth. But having this discussion without talking about genetic differences in IQ is silly. Why not just go all the way and mention it? I guess I don't understand the middle position of nearly saying it but not going a step too far.

Why do people who talk about those possible genetic differences between races in intelligence possibly deserve to die in a ditch but you can argue through implication that there may be Jewish and non-Jewish genetic differences in accomplishment?

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In his autobiography Feynman recounts asking this question to a bunch of rabbinical students (in particular, about why Jewish people are academically successful). At a different point, he asks a Japanese ambassador about how his country managed to make such a miraculous economic recovery after the war. The answer in both cases is basically the same: a particularly high regard for learning (the rabbinical students also add that this is because rabbis themselves are essentially teachers/scholars). Feynman adds to this the following anecdote:

“It was the same afternoon that I was reminded how true it is. I was invited to one of the rabbinical students’ home, and he introduced me to his mother, who had just come back from Washington, D.C. She clapped her hands together, in ecstasy, and said, 'Oh! My day is complete. Today I met a general, and a professor!'

I realized that there are not many people who think it’s just as important, and just as nice, to meet a professor as to meet a general.”

Also, Thomas Sowell has an interesting essay related to this where he compares the situation of a number of different minorities (Jews, Lebanese, Armenians, Chinese in Southeast Asia etc.). He, too, gives evidence that high regard for education is a relevant factor, but also adds some other things, such as strong family/community ties that contribute to their successes.

(Not sure if any of this is a sufficient answer, but I think it's interesting)

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An interesting analysis would be to compare the success (as defined here) of Ashkenazi Jews and other ethnic groups with the success of those Jews with Sephardic and Mizrachi backgrounds. I know there are not a ton of Sephardic/Mizrachi Jews in the US, but surely the analysis could be made.

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I don't understand this link "compared Scots favorably to Jews "http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/mtwain/bl-mtwain-concerningjews.htm" which takes me to a Wizard of Oz theme analysis

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Stop trying to get yourself cancelled. At least post this as a private paid post. Anything with in a stone's throw of Eugenics should not be a topic entertained here. It's a hot potato and will be for a very long time. Don't burn yourself, I like your other content.

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"3. One Drop Rule"

I carefully studied the family backgrounds of the first 100 names on the 2019 Forbes 400 list of richest individuals in America.

31 of the 100 had two Jewish parents and 4 had one Jewish parent (Larry Page, Larry Ellison [who was adopted by his teen mother's Jewish aunt and uncle], Steve Ballmer and maybe Donald Bren, IIRC). Keep in mind that the Forbes 400 skews old (average age 66) and in the future there will no doubt be more individuals of mixed backgrounds.

But whether you say that the Forbes 100 is either 31% Jewish or 35% Jewish, or, probably optimally, 33% Jewish, that's still a big number when Jews are about 2% of the population.

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A small note on this idea: "But maybe the Jewish advantage will turn out to be cultural. If that's true, I think it would be even more interesting - it would mean there's some set of beliefs and norms which can double your income and dectuple your chance of making an important scientific discovery."

If a small group of people has some trait, call it Trait X, and we can prove that this trait directly leads them to make double the average income, we shouldn't necessarily expect that extending that trait out to everyone would double everyone's income.

Imagine a company enters a market with a small competitive advantage, beats the competition, and makes a ton of money. It's true that the company succeeded because of its unique trait - but it came at the cost of other companies that were /almost/ as good, but not quite as good. If the most competitive company were removed, the market would still be served almost as well, just slightly less efficiently.

In a competitive environment, very small adaptive differences can make a really big difference in outcomes. But at the end of the day, a small advantage is still small - not the sort of thing that could double the productivity of an entire country if applied at scale.

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Imagine if we could make everybody not as smart as the Ashkenazi but as smart as the smartest of them, like a Von Neumann. What a world that would be. I mean sports would be useless but we’d be too busy engaging in mathematical thought experiments to care.

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> figuring out exactly what was the active ingredient of that payload would be the most important task in social science, far outstripping lesser problems like crime or education or welfare (nobody expects good policy in these areas to double average income!)

I want to say that this is an unfair comparison—that Jews' advantage might be positional, in which case it wouldn't scale up past a small fraction of the population. For instance, Jewish people could have a small IQ advantage that allows them to win many of the highest-paying jobs; but maybe the advantage is small enough that if the entire population were to catch up, we would only see a small increase in total productivity.

On the other hand, if we could give everyone the skills to become a programmer, it seems like that would be a huge win for productivity, certainly much bigger than crime, education, or welfare policy might achieve. So my concern likely does not apply.

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I suspect Scotland was braindrained by emigration to London, America, and Canada. For example, Scottish businessmen were so successful in the U.S. in the early 20th Century (e.g., Andrew Carnegie) that their favorite sport, golf, became the pastime of America's business class. Scottish-Canadian-American businessman Charles Blair Macdonald is known as the Father of American Golf. He designed the landmark National Golf Links of America in the Hamptons in 1911.

Over time, though, Scots in the U.S. merely merged socially with what are now called WASPs, so they lost their distinctive identity.

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Alternative hypothesis: even relatively poor Jews were at least somewhat educated. Those poor and failed merchants were merchants. They could read and write and do arithmetic.

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"4. Temporary Group and Country Effects"

Something I hadn't been aware of until I studied international versions of the Forbes 400 in detail is how many Jewish billionaires there are in places like Brazil and South Africa. For example, there is one billionaire in Haiti, and, yeah, he's Jewish.

Jews are about 0.2% of the world population, but they seem to be in the range of 10% to 20% of all the billionaires in the world.

In other words, the Jewish-Gentile Billionaire Gap is smaller in the United States than in the rest of the world as a whole. After all, America tended to be settled by quite productive and enterprising peoples, so gentile Americans tend to do pretty well for themselves compared to, say, gentile Brazilians.

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What if success is unlocked by a combination of factors -- nature + nurture -- that, when combined during this specific period of time of civic and economic development, happen to be dis-proportionally advantageous?

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Institutionalized assortative mating, such as, among Jews, the matching of promising male scholars with wealthy brides, incentivizes scholarship and improves the gene pool.

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On the culture side of things, I think there is some cultural weight around asking questions and challenging authority that may lead to more scientific-oriented careers, more knowledge consumption, and more critical thinking.

"Why on this night and not all other nights?..."

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The true challenge of relativism is: maybe this problem only seems interesting to you because you are Jewish!

Lots of cultures succeed at getting their members to excel at in-culture virtues. Probably the most natural example is the Mongols, who were extraordinarily good at producing skilled horse archers; during the period in history when this correlated with military success they conquered the known world; afterwards not so much.

But the question of what precise ingredients—whether cultural or genetic—contribute to this equestrian excellence seems, not boring to me per se, but a little abstruse. It’s probably some sort of gestalt of cultural factors at every level? I doubt another culture could just adopt a few simple tricks to capture even a notable fraction of this success. There’s probably an interesting academic subfield of study on the matter. But I don’t feel overwhelmingly compelled to extract the Mongol Essence of Equestrianism and disseminate it to produce a horsier world.

On the other hand, the prospect of a world much more well-off and with much more Nobel-grade science is pretty exciting to me. And it’s exciting to Scott as well.

But of course—we are both Jewish!

Maybe the Jewish secret sauce is of genuinely universal interest. It certainly seems, as articulated here, to be of pragmatic value in the current world regime (but so was horse archery). It is, I think, genuinely difficult to say for sure.

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Jews are about a standard deviation above average in intelligence. Occam's razor. Boom.

Mystery of success solved.

Figuring out why this is true (presumably founder effects, selection stemming from concentration in certain professions, etc.), is a separate, interesting question. I am surprised Scott shies away from the obvious genetic answer. I hope he's not going politically correct on us.

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Greg Cochran has told me that some Jewish people strongly dislike his work on the genetics of Jewish intelligence because they fear that people believing that Jews are especially smart in part because of genetics, might cause another holocaust.

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On the cultural side, I think Jews like intelligence. Ever since I got interested in the question, I've been looking for anti-intellectual Jews and I haven't found them.

I've found non-intellectual Jews (Natalie Goldberg's parents, I think), but even those are rare.

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> Anti-Semites had their own story about problems caused by Jews controlling everything and creating covert structures/institutions that favored Jews. Nowadays we rightly reject that story.

Should we reject it completely?

Based on what we know about human nature, wouldn't it be surprising if a group of people, once they've attained a position of power and privilege (e.g. Whites, Jews, Freemasons, or Harvard grads), didn't wind up making decisions that privileged members of their in-group, whether consciously or unconsciously?

It's unlikely to explain 100% of the difference (since how does the group attain that position in the first place?) but it would be surprising to me if it explained zero percent.

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> I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews and I cannot even begin to imagine what those beliefs would be - as far as I can tell, the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average American worldview.

This is quite a surprising assertion, especially given your previous discussion of things like the "dark matter universe" of people very unlike you (in I Can Tolerate Anything But The Outgroup). IIRC, your father is also a doctor, and you wrote this about your upbringing:

> When I was 6 and my brother was 4, our mom decided that as an Overachieving Jewish Mother she was contractually obligated to make both of us learn to play piano. She enrolled me in a Yamaha introductory piano class, and my younger brother in a Yamaha ‘cute little kids bang on the keyboard’ class.

And you also majored in philosophy, which I'm guessing was with at least tacit support from your parents for getting a degree with no obvious practical application.

I think all of these speak to your upbringing being pretty far away from "completely average American", and I can't imagine your worldview would be the same if those were all different!

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> I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews and I cannot even begin to imagine what those beliefs would be - as far as I can tell, the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average American worldview.

You were raised by "Jews" and not "Jew". You may be underestimating the extent to which your normal upbringing had good outcomes because your had two parents. Single parenthood is the number one correlate with lower achievement, and is concentrated within underachieving groups and subgroups.

If by "Jews" you mean extended family and an intact community, all the better.

Switching gears, the Scottish Enlightenment was almost certainly the result of the Education Act of 1496, which was the first law in the world mandating education for a subset of the population (eldest sons of landowners). Cultural norms valuing education are almost certainly the most important norms there are.

I am not Jewish and am less acquainted with pre-modern Jewish norms regarding education. I have heard Jews claim that the origin of Jewish overachievement is a millennia-long tradition of literacy via Torah study. I am not sure how accurate this is, but I am inclined to believe these accounts.

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What about big 5 traits? I don’t think it would come as any surprise if Jews scored higher in trait neuroticism (stereotype) but I’d be interested in conscientiousness and openness as well. But it’s probably IQ. lol

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1.) The Scottish were a market dominant minority in England after the Acts of Union. The joining of the two countries created an open border and England was much wealthier so the Scotts moved down and set up in business. Of course, they had the advantage over the other market minorities (Jews, Huguenots) that they could just go back to Scotland if they wanted. And Scotland had universities and all that they could work in.

2.) Your friend whose parents were a Kosher butcher and transporting logs has misremebered the social prestige of their occupations. Those would have been upper middle class professions. A kosher butcher especially would have been educated and well respected. And someone who moved logs on a major river in Tsarist Russia would have required special legal privileges to do so.

3.) Part of the antipathy of local Jews against immigrants was ethnic/cultural. American Jews prior to the late 19th century were mostly from England, the Netherlands, etc. They were Sephardic Jews. The Eastern European Jews were Ashkenazi. These two groups did not get along. There were even theories about how Sephardic Jews were white and Ashkenazi were not. The two were separated in most racial classifications at the time.

4.) There were a few unusual thing about EE Jews against the general population. They were hugely underrepresented among both elite professions (landowners, lawyers, etc) and common professions (mostly enserfed farmers). This meant they were pushed into the middle where they were largely artisans, shopkeepers, merchants, etc. They were also unable to leave these professions. A rich gentile could buy an estate and become an aristocrat. Jews could not. Add in relatively high literacy and relatively sophisticated financial networks and you have a world where business ownership and education were hugely important. Their business and education were one of the few places Jews could park capital. You couldn't buy an estate but you could pay to become a doctor or open a tailor's shop.

5.) As for who came over, from that chart, the main thing that stands out was they're disproportionately artisans and secondarily traders. These would have been common professions in general. It looks like a bunch of people who had enough money from a trade to pay for passage but who weren't rich or established enough to have deep roots.

Personally, I don't think Jews are all that unique among other Market Dominant Minorities. I think the disproportionate contributions to wealth and science are normal for MDMs But Jews were effectively forced to be a MDM in Europe and continued to be one in the US.

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Interesting that you discounted culture and saved it for last. I'm a gentile who just happens to have a lot of Jewish friends and ended up in a Jewish fraternity in college. So I have an outside-insider view and I think it's 100% cultural (and to the extent cultural traits get encoded over time, genetic). Almost universally, the Jewish families I know value education above all. They also emphasize financial literacy. Maybe that seemed normal to you but it's not.

By contrast "white culture" (feels weird to put it that way... also I'll limit this to men) I would say values athletics, manual labor, military service, and, at most, business. Call it a blue collar v. white collar idealization/aspiration... Another way to put it might be greater cultural stock placed on "hard work" vs. "intelligence." I'm not just talking about hillbillies and rednecks. Even among upper-middle class whites, there isn't the same moral value attached to education and intelligence. Or personal financial decisions. Education, and particularly higher education, has a neutral moral value at best. At worst, academia is viewed as effeminate or lazy. Jews I know had extreme parental pressure (or at least expectations) to become doctors and lawyers. Most white parents are perfectly happy to let their kids dream of becoming a baseball player or navy seal. Bad grades are no big deal. School is esoteric with limited real-world application. These are all generalizations, of course, but that's the point.

Another gut intuition I would have about Jewish success is the "grit" factor. I know this will sound tone deaf but... overcoming adversity is a real benefit in terms of achieving long term success. I think that works at the individual and group level. If you're conditioned to being oppressed, wouldn't you expect to thrive when the playing field is (relatively) equalized? This is also sort of related to the "necessity is the mother of innovation" theory and Israel. Survival is a hell of a motivator.

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Two comments:

1. There is important context missing in the section about "american jews sending angry letters to European Jewish leaders..." American-born Jews had developed businesses, success, etc. in the US (largely in NY) and were concerned that other Americans would associate them with the incoming low-class Eastern European immigrants. There was a concern that this would diminish American-born Jewish social status and/or give rise to antisemitism. A lot of this is covered in Robert Caro's "The Power Broker;" Robert Moses' (an American-born Jew of German origin) mother ran clubs in NYC that attempted to "teach" new immigrants. The word "Kike" was born out of New York Jews who attempted to distance themselves from those immigrants. My point being: I'm not sure this situation can necessarily be generalized.

2. Judaism encourages education. The whole practice of studying the Torah and all of the interpretations of the Torah, the arguments between Rabbis over the centuries, etc. all encourage the practice of asking questions. I suppose this isn't something easily proven empirically but this was always my understanding.

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Why is the Nobel Prize listed as if it's objective? Isn't that just some people's opinions on who made the best discovery? Maybe they're just prosemitic.

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While Ashkenazi-Americans clearly average higher IQs than white gentile Americans, Ashkenazis tend to be most successful in some roles and less so in others. For example, if look at Academy Award winners, Jews do extremely well in producing (Best Picture) and in screenwriting. In contrast, American Jews seldom get nominated for Best Cinematography (although the great Mexican cameraman Lubezki is Jewish). I think one thing that is going on is that American Jews with the visual talent to be great cinematographers are more likely to direct (e.g., Kubrick and Spielberg).

But it also seems likely that Ashkenazis are particularly strong with words and numbers, but less so with visual cognition.

Ben Rich, Norwegian-American Kelly Johnson's successor as head of Lockheed's Skunk Works, mentions in his memoir that Jews are somewhat rare in engineering (despite huge numbers of Jews living near Lockheed's old HQ in Burbank, CA due to the entertainment industry being centered nearby).

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I would like to see a follow-up article on Jews and achievement/participation rates in sports and athletics. Is there a similar discrepancy, perhaps in the opposite direction? Would such a differential be nature or nurture? I get the impression, from a distance, that working-class Jews have a less favorable attitude towards their children excelling in such areas compared to working-class Gentiles.

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" the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average American worldview. "

I think you are much more likely to argue arcane technical points, create abstractions, accept (or at least entertain) conclusions that sound strange or uncomfortable while you evaluate logical arguments, and generally debate other people (especially while remaining friends with them), than the average American. (I think your posts and the fact that you're prominent in the Rationalsphere demonstrate this claim). These are also things that are generally associated with Jewish culture (or at least Ashkenazi culture) and which are probably useful for conducting academic research or engaging in intellectually demanding (but lucrative) professions like law and programming. I would be surprised if all these factors were unrelated.

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I realize this isn't the most on-topic question, but what is the x-axis on that chart of income vs region of origin? Why is China closer to Egypt and Quebec than Thailand?

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Re the "Temporary Group And Country Effects" section, I think Noah's point regarding Jewish over-achievement being a "blip" is something like accounting for the multiple comparisons problem. I.e., there are a lot of ethnic and cultural groups out there, and their measured level of achievements all vary to some degree based on happenstance factors we would categorize as "noise," and if there's enough of these we should just expect an apparent outlier on the scale of the Jews from measurement noise alone. If that were the case, we could expect Jewish achievement to revert to the mean, just as apparently happened with the Scots*. I don't know that this is a very convincing explanation, but it's something that would need to be considered (there really are *lots* of groups of humans out there.)

Regarding the last paragraph - I think it's probably a known thing that there exist cultural norms that powerfully select for (certain kinds of) success, surely? This all goes back to the discussions of social class on this very blog. Middle-class kids learn the norms that got their parents into cushy upper-middle-class jobs and lifestyles, working-class kids learn the norms that let their parents succeed in working-class endeavors, etc. (I guess the super-upper-class kids get some crazily powerful and advanced cultural programming, but who knows.) If Jews were just a bit better than other groups at promulgating the very typical upper-middle-class norms that put kids on a trajectory towards white-collar jobs, that would probably explain the whole thing.

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Quibble: is Israeli residence, as a metric, really free of the "one drop rule" issue? AIUI you don't have to be halachically Jewish to immigrate to Israel, just Jewish enough that the Nazis would have persecuted you, and in particular I remember reading somewhere that a significant fraction of Russian immigrants to Israel aren't halachically Jewish.

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I’ve come around to the position that, barring a true system of racism (I.e. slavery, Jim Crow, the Holocaust, etc.), group differences are explained by basically the same forces as individual differences. It is a combination of nature and nurture, with culture being the most important aspect of the “nurture” component in the group context. Despite tremendous amounts of effort and money going into alternative “systemic” explanations, I find most such explanations deeply unsatisfying, for reasons similar to ones pointed out in this piece. We need to disentangle normative claims from empirical claims here and get to a place where we recognize that groups are different in significant ways with significant real-world impacts, but, particularly because within group differences are far greater than between group differences, none of this justifies treating any individual as more or less or different based on group affiliation.

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The most obvious hypothesis should be violence restriction. The Jews were not allowed to serve in army and hold arms in most countries where they were successful, and in countries with few restrictions they didn't especially stand out (Caucasus and, maybe, Spain/Morocco - but I'm no expert). Same happens with other nations, Greeks and Armenians of Ottoman Empire come to mind. The violence restriction pushes the whole society to specific direction, incentivizes marriages etc. So yes, Jews are extremely successful in non-violent world because they started earlier. In violent, though, it differs.

(Btw, Indians probably earn more mostly because they're programmers on working visas rather than everyone else).

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Is it really true that the far-right Russian nationalists' incentives to lie go the other way? Don't most anti-semites use Jewish over-representation as proof that we are engaged in a massive conspiracy to control the weather and global financial markets? Seems like showing over-population among (((Communist)))) Scientists would be useful towards those ends.

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Its interesting that I don't really hear much about the culture of country of origin as a possible factor in these kinds of discussions. Living in a country/culture for several hundred years must have some (maybe positive) influence right.

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The part about the American Jewry writing angry letters about the newer crappier immigrants reminded me of a book about my own ethnic group, the Italians, called “The Madonna of 115th Street”. When the Italians started coming over in the late 19th century, they weren’t consistent churchgoers and brought all their weird folk religious practices with them, much to the chagrin of established American Catholics.

The Irish and the Poles had basically just gotten other Americans to tolerate Catholicism, and then all these Italians doing some voodoo-looking version of Catholicism show up. So they wrote angry letters to the Pope asking “WTF is wrong with these people?!”

The Pope, being Italian, responded by making the Madonna statue in the Italian church on 115th Street in Harlem something like the third holiest object in the Western Hemisphere. My grandparents were from Italian Harlem and have an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel engraved on their tombstone.

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Jews have been enthusiastic baseball and basketball fans for the last century. But they haven't numbered much among professional players.

On the other hand, as the intellectual demands of running sports franchises have grown during the Moneyball Era, more baseball executives are now Jewish, such Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the leading baseball franchise at present. Similarly, Theo Epstein ran the Chicago Cubs to their famous World Series win in 2016. His great grandfather and identical twin brother, the Epstein Twins, wrote the final screenplay of "Casablanca."

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Based on the chart, it looks like the top two ethnicities are actually *Belarusian* and *Chinese* (in that order), with third place is roughly a six-way tie between Maltese/Estonian/Latvian/Korean/Thai (in order of x-axis position); in contrast, Israel (which I'm using a proxy for Jews, since there's no dot on the chart labeled "Jews" or anything like that) is roughly the top of the -5000 to 5000 (I have no idea what units these are supposed to be) cluster of mediocre ethnicities. This means that, though it would be an improvement if everyone could become as successful as typical Jews, it would be *even more* of an improvement if everyone were to become Belarusian or Chinese, so the disproportionate attention paid to Jews is kind of unjustified.

(Disclaimer: am ethnic Chinese.)

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> Really no source of data other than hand-counting Jewish high-achievers is vulnerable to this problem, and we have lots of other sources of data.

Isn't the other side of the equation (self-identification as Jewish) potentially vulnerable too? People might be more or less likely to see themselves as Jewish depending on how successful they are.

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UC Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine's 2004 book "The Jewish Century" talks about the three migrations of Eastern European Jews in the "Fiddler on the Roof" era: to America, to Palestine, and to the big cities of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Slezkine's basic idea is that the world over time has come to reward more the kinds of bourgeois skills that Ashkenazis tended to have.

To take a post-2004 example, being a baseball executive has recently come to require a high level of statistical reasoning skills. So it's not surprising that many of the most successful baseball executives, like Andrew Friedman of the Dodgers, are now not old-time baseball lifers but financial analysts, often Jewish, who made a career change to baseball and brought their finance skills with them.

(Interestingly, Israel consciously tried to move in the opposite direction and reward old gentile skills like fighting and farming.)

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>Really no source of data other than hand-counting Jewish high-achievers is vulnerable to this problem, and we have lots of other sources of data.

I'm confused by the phrasing, it produces a kind of Necker-cube effect on me:

a) possible typo? intended to read : Really no source of data other than hand-counting Jewish high-achievers is immune to this problem, and we have lots of other sources of data.

b) not a typo, can be restated as : Any source of data that doesn't involve hand-counting Jewish high-achievers avoids this problem, and we have lots of sources of data.

I'm uncertain how to confidently tie either back to the train of thought, can someone please assist?

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Interesting that no one has mentioned this but I always just assumed the disproportionate success was analogous to a superbug that has become resistant to anti-biotics. For 2000 years Jews have remained a homogenous ethnic group exposed to multiple rounds of ethnic cleansing. Inevitably the most resilient of bunch survive to reproduce.

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Culture, culture, culture. Until this comes to the forefront of the conversation about inequality, there will be no real progress on the issue. Other cultures (including my own- white Irish, which has historically been shamefully unsupportive of Jewish people) would do well to sit up and look to learn some lessons from Jewish and south-east-asian-American cultures instead of whining about supposed unfairness all the time. As Scott points out, there may be no barn-door cultural factors- they may be quite subtle or even latent- but that does not mean they do not exist. This is by far the most logical, and happily, hopeful explanation.

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> But at some point the cost of enshrining as dogma that all high-achieving ethnic groups are oppressors outweighs than the benefit of “they haven’t applied this to us just yet.”

Forgive me if I'm projecting my own Jewish anxiety here, but it was hard for me to watch people indiscriminately attack Jews on the streets of NYC and LA last month and not conclude that the inevitable conclusion of the "Standard Model"/wokeism/successor ideology/what have you is the new wave of anti-Semitism that we are currently witnessing. I imagine those same events were in the back of Scott's mind as he wrote this. The "achievement = oppressor" dogma was always woefully inadequate; it now risks becoming downright dangerous.

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Most of the speculation I've seen about a genetic explanation couples it with a higher incidence of genetic problems like demylanation (sp) to explain why these mutations aren't universal. Whether or not it's true genetic mod to make everyone a bit more smart/diligent mostly keeps everyone running in place. Far better to engineer hypomania in everyone.

Also I wouldn't discount the simple effect of being a small close knit community plus simple randomness. Many immigrant groups cluster in certain fields and Jews simply clustered in academic or intellectual ones.

And don't discount the cultural effects of all that rabbinical study increasing the standing of intellectuals in the community.

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It made me sort of uncomfortable to read [the first part of] this, because it sounded a whole lot like "here's all the reasons why my race is superior to most other races" and that thought pattern sometimes goes to really bad places.

I agree that the conclusion is really interesting.

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The missing word here is bourgeois. Most Jewish immigrants were from bourgs, cities, towns, "stetls". The stetl has been reimagined as some awful place. Actually, it was the center of economic activity for the surrounding countryside, often with a legally enforced privilege over trade. Jews were already bourgeois. They already had educations. Most other immigrants were not. They were first generation city. That is a huge difference that meant access to different networks, different aspects of American life that were more likely to be profitable.

It's interesting that you mention bankruptcy. That's not a sign of poverty. It's a sign of someone who had enough money to have significant debts, and to have wiped the slate clean. Farmworkers of the 1800s didn't go bankrupt. They just ate less. Non-Jewish immigrants were overwhelmingly farmworkers before they came.

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Here is a story on this theme:

The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World, 42) by Maristella Botticini & Zvi Eckstein


How the Jewish people went from farmers to merchants

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 Few presents 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 offer a powerful new explanation of one of the most significant transformations in Jewish history while also providing fresh insights into the growing debate about the social and economic impact of religion.

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Typo in Section 3: "Solvang Conference"

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Scott, apropos of your recent concerns about motivations, what motivated you to write this piece?

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Immigration stories: My mother and my grandparents fled Ukraine in 1935. It was good time to leave. They had no money themselves, but my grandmother's uncle who had emigrated before WWI had been a successful business man in small town Ohio. he started collecting junk on a horse drawn wagon in small mining towns out there, turned the wagon into a business wholesaling candy and cigarettes to little country stores, and bought some real estate. He paid for my grandparents to come over and sponsored their immigration. My grandfather worked for him in the candy & cigarettes business. The family had picked my grandparents to be the ones to leave because they thought he was too much of a capitalist and that he was going to get himself killed.

My wife's father left Vienna in 1938 a couple of days after Kristallnacht. He was young and single. He had been involved in Scouting and an American Scoutmaster got him a job in Denmark as a way station out. He too had relatives in the US who sponsored him. But, none of them were monied, although they were middle class people with jobs.

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How about cultural attitudes towards literacy and education? Jewish men had to read from the Torah. It helped if mom was literate too. She could teach her sons. Presbyterians were expected to read their Bible. Scots had a relatively high literacy rate by the 18th century. Nations influenced by Confucius have had civil service exams since way when. Literacy was a path to a good job and possibly more. I’m less sure about India, but I know literacy was valued by the English running the place. They needed a native civil service as well as an army.

Jewish immigrants to the US were noted for spending a lot on education as opposed to physical goods. Knowledge is portable and hard to confiscate or destroy. Jews have a long history of getting kicked out of places, so this kind of thinking makes sense. The overseas Chinese share this, so there is a tendency to think of what happens after the next pogrom or edict. What can you take with you? Education packs lightly.

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The secret of Jewish success is no secret at all. 1. Get an education. Read books, Go to college, go to graduate school. 2. Delay marriage until you have an education. Delay child bearing until you are married. 3. Avoid alcohol, drugs, and fooling around outside of your marriage. 4. Stay married. 5. Save money for your children's education and for your retirement. 6. Remember the Sabbath. On Friday night have a nice family dinner with prayers, candles, and wine.

Here is what it says in the Talmud: A father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him by payment to a priest, if he is a firstborn, to teach him the Law, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. And some say: to teach him to swim.

Sounds dull and bourgeois? You bet. Wash rinse and repeat for 120 generations, and this is what you get.

By the way, none of that is conditional on the actions of outsiders.

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My assumption was always that it was combination of intelligence and tight communities.

There is enough written about the intelligence, but we can see even the letter from American Jews to European that they did consider helping the immigrants to be their natural obligation (in stronger sense than other minorities did). Intelligence combined with nepotism would seem like a powerful factor.

That said, with Jews becoming just a vague cultural group instead of the tight religious one, I expect regression to mean in the future.

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RE: This isn't the way most American Jews remember their own history; family lore usually focuses on how our ancestors were the poorest of the poor.

For the record, this is also true of many Indian immigrants, the lore is often a story of extreme poverty and survival. The story tends to fall apart on closer examination, though.

Yes, they arrived with very little money, but maybe also a PhD.

Or, another version: yes, there was this weird time during partition when they were bankrupt and they were begging on street corners for a month and their siblings died of preventable disease, but if you go back one more generation, you find they were wealthy before partition started. The period of hardship was maybe 5 years and then they got back on their feet.

That is to say, the poverty and struggle is often real, but the struggle was happening to someone who was raised as an elite, with all of the soft social cues, skills, and cognitive aptitudes that this implies, so the struggle was in short order overcome.

Given what I have observed in the Indian case, I am not surprised if with subsequent retellings, the "overcoming poverty" story gets exaggerated in the Jewish case.

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Perhaps Jews have a disproportionate effect on what is considered "success" or "achievement" and thus skew the axis, so to speak, to disproportionately represent themselves within it. full disclosure: I am a jew and I am presently having a disproportionate effect on what is considered "achievement"--while representing myself within it. And so is Scott.

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To say that "white people are somewhere around the middle" (in SES) is a stretch of the words "somewhere" and "middle."

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I found the previous discussion of the jewish advantage in https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/26/the-atomic-bomb-considered-as-hungarian-high-school-science-fair-project/ to be very interesting and relevant to this topic.

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Why would a man of sense take Noah Smith seriously. He's the guy who wrote that the "Explanation of Japan for Westerners" is, quote, "Japan is a collection of rocks with some human beings on it. That's the vast majority of what you need to know." That got Spandrell's goat, as you can imagine. The latter's response applies equally to the post you are responding to:


Let me translate this to you: Pattern Recognition is Bad. No, it's positively Evil. You should not try to use your brain and notice things. That may get you into trouble, and certainly prevent you from getting a job as an economics professor. What you need to do is ἐποχή squared; suspend all judgment, and if possible all cognitive function. Just do as you're told by your academic betters, i.e. me. [...] Which is not much because I myself do not judge, do not recognize patterns, and do not try to notice things. But I am en expert™ through living 3 years (on and off) [in Japan], during which my expertly trained non-noticing skills led me to not learn the language, not understand anything and certainly not noticing anything about the country. I did notice there were rocks and human beings; but that's probably safe to notice. Right? Right??

That's contemporary science for you.

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Solvay conference, not Solvang, more physics and less pointy hats…

Ashkenazi Jews have one standard deviation higher average IQ thanks to Europe’s unintended selective breeding experiment on them spanning a millennium, and income is correlated with IQ. I wonder how much of the income gap is explained by this alone.

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>The Ashkenazim I know are mostly well-off, well-educated, and live decent lives. If genetic engineering could give those advantages to everyone (...)

I really want to discourage everyone from entertaining this kind of ideas. It cannot.

The ability to live a good life remains positional. Some people have it easier to get into those positions, and an individual intervention might help an individual, but the systemic problem is not ability, it's scarcity. We've already tried exactly this with mass education, and it turns out a diploma that guarantees a stable high-prestige job when held by 1% of the population has long ceased doing so at 50%. (We've apparently also tried it with making more Jews, there's a post upthread about how a population boom forced most of them down the economic ladder.)

Of course, maybe it might work in a roundabout way, by producing a population more likely to understand the need for, and demand, systemic changes. (Jews famously used to be overrepresented in socialist organizations, so there's that.) Then again - education, so far, didn't. Maybe 50% is too low of a number, maybe it merely encourages discrimination against the remaining 50%, maybe we'd need something like 80%. But then again, the cutoff line would probably simply move higher, like it once did from lite-/nume-racy to high school, then from high school to college.

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The first paragraph from section 2 is a quote from Noah but not marked as such.

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Three things:

1. Did you read the Ferguson response to NHAI? A PDF is here https://www.researchgate.net/profile/R_Brian_Ferguson/publication/273369474_How_Jews_Became_Smart_Anti-Natural_History_of_Ashkenazi_Intelligence/links/54ff28410cf2741b69f414f9/How-Jews-Became-Smart-Anti-Natural-History-of-Ashkenazi-Intelligence.pdf

When I first read it, I thought he raised more interesting objections than Smith did here. He focuses on the genetic condition explanation and notes that one of the authors distanced himself (I assume Cochran) from it in a review of his response.

2. Many of the cultural explanations focus on the Talmudic tradition. We know schooling has causal effects on intelligence, which Ritchie & Tucker-Drob estimate between 1-5 per year (depending on the design). Have you looked into how many American jews get some additional schooling for religious reasons and how much that time sums to? I have no idea myself, but it could shake out to plausibly add a few points, right?

3. You said you got a totally normal "cultural payload". I had thought you at least attended some after school cheder or so, but did I imagine that because I assumed there was no other way for you to have learned all the arcana embedded in Unsong?

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Quote : <i>I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews and I cannot even begin to imagine what those beliefs would be - as far as I can tell, the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average</i> That is exactly my case and I cannot find anything special in myself or my environment, yet I mostly found myself successful. Having lived a long and varied life, I think we Ashkenazi Jews are normal while most of the people are somewhat defective and a little crazy.

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I'd be very surprised if this effect turned out to be a blip. Looking at Portuguese History (the one I'm most familiar with), Jewish elites seem to have been filling high offices to the point where it fuelled attacks on the King at least as early as the 13th century. What's more, many of the leading figures of Portugal's Golden Age in the 15th century were Jewish and there's an interesting argument that the end of said Golden Age was triggered by the expulsion of the Jews. (It works chronologically. Of course there are all sorts of socio-political confounders, with persecutions elsewhere and whatnot; but the basic story seems the same as today. Of course I don't have an answer either, but whatever is going on seems to have been going on for a while.)

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For me, the biggest question is this: Why are the Jews so succesful in so many diverse fileds?

In early 20th century, a few Jewish men, generally from humble backgrounds, moved to a certain place in California and started making movies. Somehow they became so successful, that Hollywood is in a sense the cultural center of the world since then. The big studios, Fox, Warner bros, Paramount, Columbia, Universal, were all founded by Jews in the early era of Hollywood. (Disney is a big counterexample here, he was not Jewish).

Some Jewish people started drawing comics about funnily dressed people punching villains. Somehow it became an important cornerstone of modern culture. The two creators of Batman were Jewish. The two creators of Superman were Jewish. Stan Lee, creator of lots of important Marvel heroes, was Jewish.

I once looked at a list of "the 13 greatest Broadway composers ever". 10 were Jewish. (In the same list, they were less successful, though still overrepresented in other categories: 4 out of 9 writers, 3 out of 8 the greatest directors in Broadway history.) As checking if they are generally good at music, I looked at BBC's "10 greatest compesers of the 20th century" list. 4 were Jewish.

At this point, I am confused what the general skill is that makes them successful in science, finance, producing the kind of intellectuels as Marx and Freud, making big in new fields (like early 20th century film industry), making good music and being lucky in creating popular superheroes.

I don't think IQ alone is enough to answer that, I don't expect it to correlate that strongly with success in the early film industry, or being a good composer. I think there must be some other secret ingredients too (enterpreneurship for example?), which might be cultural or genetic again.

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> There...aren't a lot of European Jews left to survey, but a lot of pre-Holocaust Europe's greatest geniuses seemed to be Jewish.

On this point: I recently heard an argument that WWI was made possible by the Haber process for fixing atmospheric nitrogen in ammonia, invented a few years earlier. When Germany was cut off from foreign nitrate supplies by the British blockade, it depended on the Haber process for its supply of nitrogen-based explosives and nitrogen-based fertilisers. And - yes, Haber was Jewish.

Conversely, by WWII, political persecution in Germany and Italy had cost them a substantial fraction of their top scientific talent, who had left because they were Jewish (e.g. Einstein, Szilard, Franck), had Jewish wives (e.g. Hess, Fermi), or just had friends in those categories. Counterfactuals are always dangerous - but, if the Axis hadn't lost those strategic assets, it seems reasonable that the war would have gone a little more favourably for them.

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USA and the world really missed a big chance when Bernie wasn't nominated by the Dems. He would've been the first Ashkenazi president, right? And as far as I know there aren't any other high profile Ashkenazi politicians that can be nominated soon. SMH.

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As a Protestant grandfather who has attended numerous Jewish services and followed the Sunday school teachings at the Synagogue I believe that expectation and gratitude are far higher among Jews, but are invisible to them, since they permeate their lives and communities. The level of institutional gratitude is far above other demographics. Couple a high level of gratitude with expectation of general success, the bar and bat mitzvah expectations, and you have a winning human being. These cultural characteristics are invisible to Jews because they have always been part of their world from infancy and they project them on others without realizing that the others live in a different culture.

Gratitude is an incredibly powerful human belief, and rewards its believers in endless ways.

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As a mathematician, occasionally I read biographies of mathematicians for fun on Wikipedia. Usually I'm surprised when they *aren't* Jewish. It's really quite impressive, and a reason why Germany went from the place to be for mathematics (especially Göttingen) before WW2 to basically another mid-tier European mathematics location.

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The ritual by whitch a Jewish boy becomes a man requires the boy to demonstrate their ability to read, by reading out loud to the community (at the bar mitzvah). I believe was the case even when been able to read was far less common in the general population.

I reckon that fact by itself provides a fair bit of weight to the claim that the difference is cultural.

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Fun fact. Russia/Soviet Union had 9 world chess champions. 8 of them are Jewish. That's more world champions than the rest of the world combined (7).

On a more substantial note, this piece reminded me of the "triple package" book/hypothesis, which is summarised well here: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/opinion/sunday/what-drives-success.html.

The central thesis is that many recent-immigrant groups do better because of a peculiar combination of superiority complex and insecurity. As in "we need to show that our culture is better" and "we haven't quite settled yet, can't afford to relax". It lists many examples of immigrant groups that are supposed to be "victims", but instead do very well on average. (Cubans, Nigerians, people from East Asia)

The piece also states that by the third generation that immigrant advantage disappears and grandchildren of the newcomers do no better than any native-born roots-in-the-ground white person. I don't know how much data there is behind this claim, but it fits into my personal observations.

I think this theory also suggests why Jewish people have been doing better than average on some metrics for longer than the prescribed two generations: they haven't had the opportunity to relax. At least not until the last couple of decades. Because they remained consistently different from the majority population and many never quite assimilated, there was always a need to prove yourself and a possibility that the "locals" will turn on you. (Even if in practice you were often more local than them) And even a fully assimilated Jew is often easy to tell apart from his/her French or German neighbour.

That would also explain the experience of Chinese diaspora in South East Asia. From my limited knowledge, it seems that in many countries, like Malaysia and Philippines, Chinese people occupied a niche similar to Jews in the West, complete with their own local versions of pogroms and worse.

Full disclaimer: I am a fully-assimilated Australian Jewish software engineer from Russia who used to play chess like crazy.

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"I'm not an expert in this period, but it sounds like the kind of thing that had something to do with increased economic growth, trade, and an improving intellectual climate in Scotland. Just to randomly speculate, Scotland had just joined in a Union with England, right as England was inventing industrialization - surely a good climate for a Golden Age to start in."

Something indeed along those lines, after the Acts of Union in 1706/07, Scotland being brought in to form one parliament, and English markets being opened, the disadvantages that Scotland had previously laboured under were ameliorated to greater or lesser degrees.

But this sounds rather like Dr. Johnson, who seems to have either had a poor enough impression of Scotland and the Scots, or to have enjoyed teasing Boswell, a Scotsman himself: https://www.samueljohnson.com/scotland.html

"The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!"

And there certainly was, post-1707, the impression of 'the Scotsman on the make', as Scottish talent and ambition headed south. J.M. Barrie, born in Scotland: "There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make."

So perhaps the parallel does make more sense as, given access to wider and freer opportunities, the talented and ambitious Scots and Jews were successful out of proportion to their numbers?

The interesting examination there is the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, as to why the Eastern Europeans seem to have done much better than the Southern Europeans? Is that down to genetics as well?

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When I was a kid, the explanation I was given by my WASP parents was that a) Jews did a better of job of in-group networking, and more importantly 2), Jews were much, much less likely to become dysfunctional, roaring alcoholics as adults. Are these things true?

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Regarding Noah Smith's first point, it sure sounds to me like he was talking about World War 2 specifically, so your arguments about immigration decades before that aren't very applicable.

I can't remember where I read this, and a quick Google search didn't help, but I do remember reading somewhere (that I felt at the time I could believe, at least) that American Jews went from one of the lowest IQ groups in the country before WWII to one of the highest after. Their argument, which would match your claims, was that immigration to the US was all initially from the least capable, looking for a new life out of desperation. Then, when the build-up to the Holocaust happened, you had a flood of the most capable (and those with the most means) Jewish immigrants leaving Europe for the US. This could also maybe explain the disproportionate numbers in Russia.

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Is there a possibility that (kind of as an inverse of the 'one-drop-rule') "unsuccessful" people of Jewish heritage are less likely to identify as Jews and pass on this heritage? Orphans, children born out of wedlock etc. might for example have had more incentives to assimilate to the mainstream culture, but similarly had worse socio-economic starting conditions?

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I'm guessing its a combination of a good sense of community, strong culture of education, and a long history in America. Ultimately, there is not much difference between Asian and Indian Americans other than that Jewish people have a more cohesive culture (Jewish schools, Synagogue, etc.) and have been in America longer, meaning they have had more time to accrue wealth.

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I thought it was common knowledge that successful people were less likely to emigrate? It wasn't the Duke of Buggeringham that was upping sticks to go be a pioneer in America, but at most the fifth son of some minor noble, who had no chance of inheriting the family estate and even that wasn't much.

And that is certainly not limited to Jews. Hell, the reason that Florida and Texas have famously debtor-friendly laws is because a lot of the first families of those states were folks fleeing their creditors.

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Too fraught a topic for a Minnesotan? You betcha.

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"People act like genetic engineering would be some sort of horrifying mad science project to create freakish mutant supermen who can shoot acid out of their eyes. But I would be pretty happy if it could just make everyone do as well as Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazim I know are mostly well-off, well-educated, and live decent lives. If genetic engineering could give those advantages to everyone, it would easily qualify as the most important piece of social progress in history, even before we started giving people the ability to shoot acid out of their eyes."

It seems likely that to engineer everyone to have the material success of the average Ashkenazim, you would need to engineer everyone to the specifications of the average Ashkenazim. There are obvious trade-offs: How many guys named "Cohen" can slam-dunk? The NBA would soon be unwatchable.

I imagine that we would be willing to sacrifice professional basketball to eliminate poverty, but the unprovent assumption here is that the successes of 2% of the population will scale. At some point we have all the lawyers, psychiatrists, and movie producers that we need, and all those smart engineered Ashkenazim clones will need to find something else to do. Somebody needs to deliver the mail and do oil changes. My conception of intelligence is that (most of) those types of non-intellectual tasks (not slam-dunking) can be done at least as well by someone with a 130 IQ, but I doubt that this person will be satisfied with his lot in life. He knows he's just as smart as the neurosurgeons, but he's stuck delivering mail because there just weren't enough neurosurgeon jobs. On the other hand, I know of a lower-class white guy who was ecstatic (to the point of bragging to women) that he was earning $800 a week as a roofer.

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Focusing solely on Ashkenazim from the 1800s onwards seems iffy. Sephardim we’re doing fairly well in England, France, and the Ottoman lands beforehand and early American Jews were Sephardic or German Ashkenazim (which is partly why they were so critical of the shtetl folks in East, who they considered to be rabble). Figures like Josef Nasi the Duke of Naxos or the Sassoon family of Baghdad (later dubbed the Rothschilds of the East as they expanded enterprises to Bombay and Shanghai - akin to Rothschild sending his sons to the various great European financial centers - and even helping to found HSBC) we’re doing their thing separate from the Ashkenazic world.

The simpler answer is that there’s something (or a bundle of somethings) about Jews generally which tends towards them having significant capacity once you take down the structural constraints preventing their success. The bulk of Jews taking off in the 1800s and 1900s (whereas previously it was a few elites who represented the community as a whole who did quite well) correlates well with Jewish emancipation.

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Scott, you once wrote (or maybe i'm confusing you with EY, but i dont think so) that Jewish families seem to get a little more secular with every generation. Is anything similar happening culturally? Are religious traditions kept as belief fades? I've heard Jewish families usually start a religious preschool earlier than others, is that being maintained?

>I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews and I cannot even begin to imagine what those beliefs would be

I would speculate that you dont spend large amounts of time with lower-achieving groups, and that it would be more obvious if you did.

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When considering the success of a Jew, shouldn't we adjust for the success of their parents, which gave them a better starting point? i.e. compare their success only to gentiles with similarly successful parents?

I think this will eliminate most of the gap, leaving only the generation which made the jump up the social ladder. The conditions for that generation were more unique, so might be easier to explain

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I agree with the comments I'm seeing about Scott nor fully addressing Cochran's views. It's been a little while since I read the 10,000 Year Explosion but my brief summary from the time suggests that Cochran and Harpending say Ashkenazi intellectual achievement is a recent change that arose because of:

1. Jews' careers in cognitively demanding jobs (traders, then financiers/moneylenders, then management)

2. Wealthier people reproducing more (and living in less crowded - which I suppose implies less dangerous / unhealthy? - conditions)

3. Stable rules against intermarriage

4. Intellectual ability being highly heritable

Non-Ashkenazi Jewish achievement doesn't track in the same way, they argue, because Jews in the Islamic world had less intellectually-demanding jobs.

P.S. - Sorry for reposts; having technical issues

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Not a scientist and probably not as smart as most of the people reading this blog or writing these comments--as well, my comment will be entirely informed by the headlines of two-bit science-y websites:

if epigenetics can "prove" that trauma is inherited, why wouldn't "propensity to study and learn" be considered one of the potential causes that works towards explaining Jewish "success" (as a failure Jew, my use of scare quotes is meant to imply deep resentment).

It seems, then, like it wouldn't be just the culture of learning which contributes to success, but a cumulative genetic effect of such cultural values.

two cent hypothesis.

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> But at some point the cost of enshrining as dogma that all high-achieving ethnic groups are oppressors outweighs than the [sic] benefit of “they haven’t applied this to us just yet.”

This sentence has me so confused. The first part means, I think, 'in the standard model, there are only two options for high achieving minorities. Either they are not really high achieving or they are creating structures which entrench their power, and therefore Smith et al must explain away high achievement in ethical minorities because to accept their success is to accept their pernicious power structures. This is bad and ought be avoided as a strategy.'

But then the second part eludes me. Who is 'they'? Smith and the other Standard Modelers? 'This' must be the strategy of explaining away high achievement as uninteresting. Why is there a benefit to not-yet-having-applied said strategy? Is 'us' some given minority? Is there a benefit for a given minority to still being considered interestingly successful? If so, what is it? And how does one weigh these together? Why would the benefit only exist under the standard model? Shouldn't the view that a certain minority is successful be moreso outside the standard model? I'm very lost.

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Well the most successful group in the last graph is "Belarusian", and this word breaks down into two roots meaning "White" and "Rus' ". I'm not sure how you can get more literal with the Whites being the richest group.

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The sphingolipid diseases are illustrative of the selective pressures, not necessarily the major or dominant effects of selection. The key point is the prevalence of childhood-lethal recessive alleles in the population. Now, some level of these will be present simply from de novo mutation, but in the Ashkenazi population you have individual mutations that are common, and are at anomalously high frequencies.

We can do the population genetics math. Suppose you have an allele of prevalence p in your population, and it does very bad things to those who inherit two copies, like causing major neurodegenerative disorders in childhood, to the point where homozygotes have no children. All things equal, the prevalence will go down, though not to zero, since the selective pressure against it drops quadratically as the prevalence drops. So if it's not very close to zero, then some compensating advantage is bringing it up: those carrying a single allele must do better than average. We can estimate about how much.

If the fraction of carriers in the population is f, then the necessary selective advantage in heterozygotes must be about f/2(1-f) in order for the prevalence to stay static. At that level, the advantage in heterozygotes balances the disadvantage in homozygotes and it stops changing frequency.

So. There are several neurological diseases distinct to Ashkenazi Jews. Tay-Sachs is the most well-known. About 1 in 27 Ashkenazi are carriers, and about 1 in 3,600 babies die of really sad neurological disorders from it. It's caused by a mutation in HEXA, linked to a shared haplotype across all Ashkenazim, looks to be ~40 generations old. Running the math, that requires a selective advantage of ~2% for heterozygotes. Niemann-Pick type A is caused by a mutation in SMPD1. About 1 in 200 Ashkenazi are carriers, and about 1 in 40K of their babies die terribly of it. Selective advantage of ~0.2%. Gaucher's disease has a carrier frequency of ~9%, with 1 in 450 with it. It is not deadly to children, and causes problems including decreased lifespan, but those affected can have children. As such it's hard to estimate the selective advantage in heterozygotes. It would be ~5% if those affected had no children, but must be less than that to some extent. We also have torsion dystonia, which is not a recessive but instead variably penetrant dominant: those affected have only 1 copy of the gene, but don't always get the disease. Rate of about 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 6,000. That one is hard! How else do you drive up the frequency of a dominant mutation that high other than with some positive effects?

These are all strong evidence of selective pressure on the population. They are rare enough that they are unlikely to be major contributors to total heritable variance in the population, in the same way that Marfan's is not responsible for a large fraction of the variance in height. If there were strong selective pressures for intelligence that caused these alleles to go to high prevalence, then it would have also caused less destructive changes: small changes in prevalence of many low-impact alleles.

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I emphatically agree with this,

" . . . figuring out exactly what was the active ingredient of that payload would be the most important task in social science, far outstripping lesser problems like crime or education or welfare (nobody expects good policy in these areas to double average income!). Far from trying to make this sound "less interesting", we should be recognizing it as one of the most interesting (and potentially socially useful) problems in the world."

In addition to other factors mentioned in the conversation (e.g. valuing education, bourgeois values, etc.) I suggest a greater focus on the distinctive characteristics of intellectual dialogue in Jewish culture.

The distinctiveness of intellectual dialogue as a cultural trait may be invisible to people here because it is the water in which we all swim: everyone involved in the conversation on this blog (and all other intellectual blogs) is ipso facto immersed in the world of discussing ideas. But "discussing ideas" is not normal human behavior in most cultures around the world.

Insofar as Jewish culture has long been based on arguing Talmudic ideas as a foundational aspect of their religion, it has had an unusual focus both on textual analysis but also the normalization of disagreeing about the meaning of the ideas in texts. While there have been limited intellectual classes who discussed ideas in many cultures (priestly classes), my impression is that these sorts of textual discussions have been unusually prominent in Jewish culture at the level of every day life.

For a hint at complementary evidence on the importance of the nature of conversation in the home, the "30 million word gap" in the speech environments of young children that results in dramatic differences in educational outcomes later on has spawned an increasingly nuanced body of research focused on differing species of household talk. For a sample of the debate,

"“There is some evidence that the sheer amount of language input affects language growth (Huttenlocher et al. 1991), whereas other studies suggest that the quality of language input, such as the diversity and complexity of vocabulary and grammar (Huttenlocher et al. 2010, Rowe 2012), the contingency of language addressed to children (Bornstein et al. 2008), the use of questions (Aram et al. 2013), and language that goes beyond the here-and-now (decontextualized language; Rowe 2012), is also important. Recent research examining both quantity and quality simultaneously suggested that quality might be the primary predictor of language outcome (Rowe 2012, Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2015a), and different qualitative characteristics might play a role in different developmental periods (Rowe 2012, Tamis-LeMonda et al. 2014). For example, the diversity and sophistication of vocabulary facilitate toddlers’ lexical growth, whereas decontextualized language is more beneficial for later vocabulary growth in preschool (Rowe 2012).”

Rather than accept this dated summary as definitive, I would just note that:

1). The role of different kinds of dialogue in the home might have a significant impact on the intelligence of children and

2). Jewish patterns of dialogue might be distinct from the patterns of verbal interaction practiced in other cultures.

This hypothesis doesn't differentiate Ashkenazi from Sephardic Jewish outcomes (unless there are differing relationships to dialogue in the home among the two). But insofar as both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews outperform other cultural groups and insofar as both feature Talmudic debate as a cultural foundation, there is at least a hypothesis worth exploring here.

Insofar as I've been able to identify verbal vs. mathematical comparisons of Jewish vs. Chinese intelligence, it appears to be the case that Jews tend to score comparatively higher on verbal metrics and Chinese comparatively higher on mathematical metrics. This differential would be consistent with a distinctive Jewish verbal culture contributing to a distinctive species of intelligence.

Insofar as it is de facto forbidden to discuss the root causes of cultural discrepancies in outcomes, we are prevented from a frank and open discussion of underlying cultural foundations of success. One might have imagined that concerns about genetic root causes might have redoubled interest in researching cultural root causes, but instead both have been rendered off limits.

My vested interest: I believe intellectual dialogue, led by intelligent people who are interested in debating ideas (i.e. not most K12 teachers, who have low average SAT scores) should be a foundational experience in both elementary and secondary schools. It could be that exposure to intellectual dialogue is only valuable in the sensitive period of early childhood. But it could also be that ongoing immersion within a culture in which intellectual dialogue is actively practiced, nurtured, and respected is essential to the preservation and development of intellectual gains. It could also be that later immersion in intellectual dialogue can result in intellectual gains even among those who did not receive it as children (this is my belief based on my experience but I only have evidence based on tiny sample sizes).

I come from a white Lutheran working class culture which did a great job of inculcating a "Lake Wobegon" work ethic but in which intellectual dialogue was entirely alien. When I visited home after college, I found my Socratic mode of inquiry was actively unwelcomed by my family as an inappropriate form of social interaction. In essence, learning intellectual dialogue was like learning a foreign language for me. I've seen countless working class kids in public schools who had a similar experience - often they found that when I was working to engage them in intellectual dialogue they needed to violate familiar norms of interaction. Some knew they would get in trouble at home for interacting in such a manner. My sense is most Jewish families welcome discussions of ideas (so much so that Scott is unaware that this is not universally "American.")

More broadly, I believe that K12's focus on curriculum, assessment, etc. is the wrong model for education. Instead, it should be the design and deployment of subcultures that transmit the real habits and attitudes of success, with Joseph Henrich and Judith Rich Harris serving as key influences on my thinking here, see "Cultural Design as Educational Innovation,"


It should not be controversial to note that the insights of Henrich and Harris are not even on the map with respect to educational policy debates.

With respect to Harris, her "No Two Alike," which analyzes the causes of personality differences between identical twins, provides several distinct mechanisms through which significant differences in personality can develop even when the genetic material is identical. She refers to the components of her explanation as a relationship system, a socialization system, and a status system,


Again, if we are interested in how human beings vary beyond genetics, one might have thought that Harris' schema here might have received more attention.

Another data point for the notion that the transmission of cultural norms should be the focus of education: Utah has the highest rate of social mobility in the U.S. despite having the lowest per capita expenditures in K12 education. The most likely hypothesis is that Mormon social technology (i.e. culture) has a greater impact than does curriculum, assessment, etc.

Nothing about our current K12 model is focused on the consistent development of habits and attitudes for success through immersion in a distinctive subculture. Nothing about how we think about education is focused on the deliberate design of subcultures. The notion that the "playbooks" of Duckworth's Character Lab could have a serious impact in light of Henrich's analysis of culture and Harris's analysis of personality development strikes me as laughable,


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As a linguist, it's sort of disheartening to see Chomsky mentioned alongside Einstein...

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I suspect, with low confidence, that the key to (obviously real) Jewish overperformance is "don´t be a peasant". Medieval Jews had largely urban or at least other nonagricultural occupations, and it is easy to construct a story when this situation led to both cultural and genetic skew towards traits that would be more useful in nonpeasant dominated world than those of their agricultural neighbors

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1-I get the feeling there are a disproportionate number of Jews in the rationalist community as well. For what it’s worth that includes me. I’m not sure if I’m even right but I’ve wondered why this is.

2-I wonder how, if it all, extensive Talmud study affects a person. I personally feel it has majorly shaped the way I think. I could definitely imagine it making the rationalist way of thinking more appealing.

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I’m a bit surprised you don’t extend this to psychological data, which seems like a better way to explore root causes of behavior than personal anecdote or a theory about intelligence alleles. Surely there are relevant ethnic differences on Big Five personality traits for Jewish Americans, and those could easily influence things like income, wealth, and educational achievement.

I’m not sure they’re all things I would wish upon my (Jewish!) children though.

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Noah Smith also points out that other minority religious groups, such as Quakers, Mormons, Jains, Christian Arabs etc. also do very well.

Is it possible that perhaps if a minority religion is not optimized for producing generations financially successful, family supporting and fertile followers it will quickly die out, and therefore the observed success is just survivorship bias?

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In the 1995 book "Jews and the New American Scene," the prominent social scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, a Senior Scholar of the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies, and Earl Raab, Director of the Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University, pointed out:

“During the last three decades, Jews have made up 50% of the top two hundred intellectuals, 40 percent of American Nobel Prize Winners in science and economics, 20 percent of professors at the leading universities, 21 percent of high level civil servants, 40 percent of partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington, 26% of the reporters, editors, and executives of the major print and broadcast media, 59 percent of the directors, writers, and producers of the fifty top-grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982, and 58 percent of directors, writers, and producers in two or more primetime television series.” [pp. 26-27]

I assume Jews were about 3% of the US population in 1965-1995, so these are impressive proportions.

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There might have been something intellectually important going on with Jews pretty early. The Talmud was created and preserved, and I don't know of anyone else who has something like that.

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There could have been something intellectually important happening pretty early-- I don't think any other group produced something like the Talmud, or at least if they did, it wasn't preserved.

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You overlook another political motive to downplay or "erase" Jewish success. We'd like to believe that the presence of massive historical trauma (e.g., slavery, holocaust) means centuries of group underperformance that can only be fixed by government intervention.

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It's the cork effect! When you hold a cork under water, it needs to "work harder to barely reach the surface". Take away the oppression and it shoots up out of the water.

The observed slope downwards fits perfectly with that model, since you don't need to work hard at the very top, a cork will come back down soon after, too.

This has a variation, the "soaked sponge", where if you hold down a sponge for many generations, it soaks up water and sinks, no matter whether the oppression is lifted.

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One of the issues with statistics is that if you take data and try to find statistically significant irregularities, YOU WILL. This is why the parameters of a study must be decided before the study is done(You have a 37% chance of 1 of 1000 tests to a set of data being true if each test has a 0.1% chance of being randomly true on its own)

As a result, we should expect some outliers in terms of performance merely due to random factors. Additionally, we know high achieving (HA) parents create high achieving kids. Accordingly, we expect noise in the form of HA to propagate through multiple generations.

I would expect this to not merely be true at the family unit level but also at the cultural level and for some cultures to share child-rearing strategies which impact level-of-achievement.

Obviously, Jews or US Jews don't really share a culture per se but this would still thicken the tail of the per-culture achievement histogram.

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Scott, the answers to virtually all the group difference questions are pretty straightforward: information technology. The rise of the Jews is closely connected to requiring universal male literacy, i.e., adopting books before everyone else. The rise of Western Europe relative to others is not difficult to connect to the printing press.

Highly recommend checking out this link: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/the-chosen-few-a-new-explanati

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"But at some point the cost of enshrining as dogma that all high-achieving ethnic groups are oppressors outweighs than the benefit of “they haven’t applied this to us just yet""

The "than" seems out of place. Someone quoted you down in the comments section and it seems like this sentence used to be:

"is greater than the benefit of “they haven’t applied this to us just yet.”

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When I was in grad school (in the USA), in the mid 2000s, a professor from China was asking me questions about my family and said, "You're Jewish, right?" I told him no, and he looked startled. "I thought all the smart Americans were Jews," he explained. I didn't try to correct him, as it seemed like a reasonable mistake for him to make, but it wasn't like he had a secret racist or non-racist agenda or really thought much about American ethnicities at all. He, or his colleagues, had simply observed that all the smart Americans they knew were Jews and made an induction accordingly.

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Can you add a title to the crossposted graph from Zach Goldberg? I had to go to the original source to confirm what it was talking about.

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Of course, I don't think you can actually double income by making everyone after/whatever, because income is largely positional, and jobs are based on supply and demand.

If the average IQ became 130, burger flippers wouldn't suddenly become middle management, nor would burger flippers get paid twice as much for the same work. It would just mean that burger flippers have an IQ of 125 now, and possibly suffer more from the tedium and frustration of wasted potential than they did before.

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People talk a lot about IQ, but they seldom talk about level of motivation. Seems to me that motivation is far more important. IQ tells us 'if you can'. Motivation tells us 'if you want to'. The world is full of people with all sorts of talents, including high IQ, who are unreliable-- and unsuccessful.

People with Jewish backgrounds have, on average, much higher rates of anxiety than people with non-Jewish backgrounds. Anxiety-- about bad outcomes in the future, either specific, well visualized bad outcomes, or just generalized bad outcomes-- is a very, very strong motivator to try and avoid those bad outcomes.

Students who are more anxious about the future, study longer and harder, and try harder to do well on tests. Adults who are more anxious about the future, work longer and harder, try to please the boss or their customers by being helpful and reliable, and save more money as a cushion against the future. It just makes sense that group of people who are, on average, more anxious, are also going to, on average, end up in jobs that are better paying, and more economically secure--regardless of their average IQ.

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"There aren't a lot of European Jews left to survey" ... huh, 1.3 million?

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So complicated, but probably includes something to do with the Jewish emphasis on education that others have mentioned. (Even if you belief there is a metaphysical component- and I am an Orthodox Jew myself- it's still necessary to have a temporal context in which Providence can take shape.) Although it's true that some very religious Jews are skeptical of secular education, this tends to be limited to knowledge that isn't "necessary" to live a successful lifestyle, e.g. classics, abstract math, certain sciences, but doesn't include those disciplines which are practical.

It's also definitely not the case that religious Jews are brainless fundamentalists who spend all their time in prayer and memorizing lengthy catechisms. Traditional Jewish study is intensely rigorous and exceedingly intellectual in many regards. Scholarship is prized and rewarded socially and the most advanced students will be sought out for rabbinic positions.

In the secular or less Orthodox Jewish worlds, the primacy of erudition has been at most displaced on, or at least, shared with secular disciplines. Interestingly, however, I don't know to what extend secular Jews share the pragmatism of their highly religious peers. Non religious Jews, for instance, are much more likely to value attending a prestigious college, whereas many religious Jews would choose to attend schools with lower tuition costs.

This one I'm not as sure about, but there may be some relevance to Judaism's emphasis on practice, as opposed to belief, for which it is often contrasted with Christianity (perhaps unfairly so). The highlighting of this world, as opposed to the next, may feed the pragmatic impulse, at least in part. A person very focused on the perfect existence of heaven, may feel less inclined to exert themselves more than necessary and that extra push might've gone a long way.

Finally, there's definitely a component of the Jewish emphasis on community. Largely due to the prevalence of anti-semitism, Jews formed strong communal organizations and high levels of trust between coreligionists. Although Jews from around the globe have varying customs, they are also more or less similar, in contrast with the heritage differential between Philippine and Argentine Catholics, for instance. Even today, if I call up an Orthodox synagogue anywhere on Earth and explain that I'll be in town for the Sabbath and need a place to stay, I'll be given accommodations almost immediately.

Curious what others think about this.

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How has the term "sexual selection" not been mentioned yet? If there are proximal cultural causes ("likes books") then presumably mate selection strategies would be one of the more ultimate of those ("likes wo/men who like books", or more realistically, "blessing of parents/friends/etc. is important and also rather contingent on candidate-mate intellect").

It might not be intellect per se, but I think a culturally-mediated sexual-selection bias has to be concerned with a (more) intrinsic factor like intelligence, to produce resilience against short-term environmental effects. This is basically to say choosing a mate who's rich is not as good a strategy long-term as choosing a mate who is capable.

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"the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average American worldview"

I expect that this statement is highly incorrect. Just considering how niche of a cultural group you wound up in, whether rationalist, or people who write highly controversial blogs for other people who are more interested in truth than group acceptance, what have you. When you get your own show on CNN with millions of viewers, then maybe you can be considered closer to the mainstream.

More pointedly in favor of the cultural view is that point about black students trying to do well in school "acting white". The mistake made there is claiming that race is the distinctive marker; those students are not acting white, they are acting successful. When I taught I saw the difference frequently, and it had little to do with race. In fact, native born college students were often worse about it than foreign or first generation immigrant students. Responsibility, taking charge of their education, etc. was engrained in some students and not in others. Some students would email questions if they didn't understand the homework, some would only ask after they handed it in. Or they wouldn't hand it in at all and cite some confusion as an excuse, having never contacted me despite having ample time.

What seems strange to me is that social scientists always focus on differences between ethnic groups then dither about genetics vs culture instead of looking at homogenous ethnic groups and then considering the differences between performances. The in-group differences are pretty broad for US groups, so why not see if the same things that make some of group X more successful than others in group X also make some of group Y more successful than others in group Y?

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I think your discussion of Scots sort of dances around the point Noah is making with it. His point I take it, is that if Scots can have been disproportionately successful relative to the English, to whom we are basically genetically identical (goes the assumption; no idea if it's true) then the edgy Cochran-style genetic race science explanation for the success of Ashkenazim is ruled out. I don't think he's actually really saying that it means that there is nothing further to explain, just that 'hey, Jews sure do value education' or other plausible sociological explanations are less interesting in the "will start a big fight' way.

Also, I think there's a mistake here: ' On the other, I'm not sure that the Scottish Golden Age is really appropriate. I'm not an expert in this period, but it sounds like the kind of thing that had something to do with increased economic growth, trade, and an improving intellectual climate in Scotland. Just to randomly speculate, Scotland had just joined in a Union with England, right as England was inventing industrialization - surely a good climate for a Golden Age to start in

Also, I think this bit is just a mistake: ' I took Noah's point about the Scots to be that we were disproportionately successful *compared* to the English who also enjoyed all the same advantages, but that no one really cares about this or dreams of thinking it's genetic. No idea if that's actually true, but it's not a rebuttal of that point to bring up advantages we shared with the English relative to the rest of the world

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'But maybe the Jewish advantage will turn out to be cultural. If that's true, I think it would be even more interesting - it would mean there's some set of beliefs and norms which can double your income and dectuple your chance of making an important scientific discovery. I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews and I cannot even begin to imagine what those beliefs would be - as far as I can tell, the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average American worldview. But if I'm wrong, figuring out exactly what was the active ingredient of that payload would be the most important task in social science, far outstripping lesser problems like crime or education or welfare (nobody expects good policy in these areas to double average income!).'

I think the kind of reasoning here of 'hey, Jews make double the average income because they have X traits, so if everyone has X traits-high IQ etc.-they'd all be making that money' is very dubious in a way that I'm surprised someone as sharp as you didn't pick up on. (Unless I'm misreading you? Which I guess is not that unlikely, and I apologize if I am). Some of the extra income Jews earn, perhaps even most of it, comes from their *relative* advantage next to everyone else in the labour market, and would go away if everyone was average IQ 115 or whatever, but the badly paid jobs still had to be filled. Obviously, it is more complicated than that, since likely everyone being more intelligent would raise productivity and hence raise real incomes, but its certainly not as simple as 'hey, if we made everyone like Jews, they'd automatically earn the same money!"

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I think there's a few important differences in the narratives about white people controlling everything and creating structures that favor whites vs Jews doing that.

1. White people factually *did* do that in the past, whereas as far as I know, Jews never did. Saying there are remnants of that structure/control isn't really controversial; it's just a matter of degree.

2. Whereas STEM fields feature plenty of other ethnic groups doing better than whites, politicians, CEOs, and other groups that *actually* control structures/institutions are overwhelmingly white (and have not ever been overwhelmingly Jewish). Frankly, those groups are also much easier to bullshit your way into than STEM fields (where you're more often measured in objective skill), so they're more likely to indicate actual bias.

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I'd like to see a historical comparison between European Jews and Romani. A general explanation from the circumstances of the Jews (which of course this isn't) would also have to explain the lack of Romani Nobel Prize winners, as the Romani faced very similar discrimination, which you'd expect would cause broadly similar outcomes. I've seen a few hints at "you can explain Jewish success just from circumstances" ideas, but none that have answered the question of where my Romani scientists are.

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Zvi is hereozygous for Gaucher's, and I'm heterozygous for Tay-Sachs - just FYI. Might be interesting for you to add genetic mutations to your survey.

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It's all about the chutzpah.

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"...figuring out exactly what was the active ingredient of that payload would be the most important task in social science, far outstripping lesser problems..."

1) There's a single lab in Europe that produced 13 Nobel Prize winners. This argues strongly for this kind of success being at least partly cultural. https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2011/07/nobel-prize-winning-culture

2) A neuroscientist told me (in conversation, no reference, sorry) that human language got a lot more complex (recursive) when literacy developed. This speaks to the culture idea. Others have made related points - for example, that intellectual discussion is not the norm in most cultures, but probably is among the Ashkenazim.

3) My wife and I are both very verbally intelligent (one was a classics major and reads 6 languages; the other repeatedly scored 800 on the verbal SAT and GRE). Regression to the mean implies that our kids should be noticeably less smart as we are. But at 2.5 years old, my kid asked for help when a tower fell over: "Daddy, give it stability." And at 3.25 years old, casually said: "Bedroom is a metaphorical word for a living room with a baby sleeping in it."

To demonstrate and analyze cultural transmission of intelligence, it would be worth looking at the intelligence of children of intelligent parents. In families where the kids are as intelligent as the parents, figure out what cultural or behavioral factors are adding to the portion of intelligence that's not genetic.

4) Even the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that intelligence will be strongly influenced by language structure. Not the textbook version of the language, but the version spoken by the individual. There are many versions of English, varying in important ways - for example, whether double negation means negative or positive. I suspect that when studied through this lens, languages spoken in high-intelligence families will turn out to be more highly structured and more reflective of logic than the versions spoken in the general population.

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Even if it's the result of selective immigration, that it persists two generations later poses the same interesting cultural/genetic quandary of how to replicate it for all.

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