Black America, The Cycle of Poverty, and Time Preference

In a surprisingly well-balanced look at both conservative and liberal academic scholarship on contemporary black America, The Economist tells the remarkable story of Roland Fryer:

When Roland Fryer was about 15, a friend asked him what he would be doing when he was 30. He said he would probably be dead. It was a reasonable prediction. At the time, he was hanging out with a gang and selling drugs on the side. Young black men in that line of work seldom live long. But Mr Fryer survived. At 30, he won tenure as an economics professor at Harvard. That was four months ago.

Mr Fryer's parents split up when he was very young. His father was a maths teacher who went off the rails: young Roland once had to borrow money to bail him out of jail. His great-aunt and great-uncle ran a crack business: young Roland would watch them cook cocaine powder into rocks of crack in a frying pan in the kitchen. Several of his relatives went to prison. But Mr Fryer backed away from a life of crime and won a sports scholarship to the University of Texas. He found he enjoyed studying, and was rather good at it. By the time he was 25, the president of Harvard was hectoring him to join the faculty.

Fryer's academic focus seems to be on IQ and education:

He is obsessed with education, which he calls “the civil-rights battleground of the 21st century”. Why do blacks lag behind whites in school? Mr Fryer is prepared to test even the most taboo proposition. Are blacks genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than whites? With a collaborator from the University of Chicago, Mr Fryer debunked this idea. Granted, blacks score worse than whites on intelligence tests. But Mr Fryer looked at data from new tests on very young children. At eight months to a year, he found almost no racial gap, and that gap disappeared entirely when he added controls for such things as low birth weight.

If the gap is absent in babies, this suggests it is caused by environmental factors, which can presumably be fixed. But first they must be identified. Do black children need better nutrition? More stimulation in the home? Better schools? Probably all these things matter, but how much? “I don't know,” says Mr Fryer. It is a phrase that, to his credit, he uses often.

His most striking contribution to the debate so far has been to show that black students who study hard are accused of “acting white” and are ostracised by their peers. Teachers have known this for years, at least anecdotally. Mr Fryer found a way to measure it. He looked at a large sample of public-school children who were asked to name their friends. To correct for kids exaggerating their own popularity, he counted a friendship as real only if both parties named each other. He found that for white pupils, the higher their grades, the more popular they were. But blacks with good grades had fewer black friends than their mediocre peers. In other words, studiousness is stigmatised among black schoolchildren. It would be hard to imagine a more crippling cultural norm.

Mr Fryer has some novel ideas about fixing this state of affairs. New York's school system is letting him test a couple of them on its children. One is to give pupils cash incentives. If a nine-year-old completes an exam, he gets $5. For getting the answers right, he gets more money, up to about $250 a year. The notion of bribing children to study makes many parents queasy. Mr Fryer's response is: let's see if it works and drop it if it doesn't.

Another idea, being tested on a different group of children, is to hand out free mobile telephones. The phones do not work during school hours, and children can recharge them with call-minutes only by studying. (The phone companies were happy to help with this.) The phones give the children an incentive to study, and Mr Fryer a means to communicate with them. He talks of “re-branding” academic achievement to make it cool. He knows it will not be easy. He recalls hearing drug-pushers in the 1980s joking “Just say no!” as they handed over the goods, mocking Nancy Reagan's anti-drug slogan.

What's puzzling is how such a self-defeating cultural norm came to be in the first place. In a response to Ezra Klein on the connection between education and health outcomes, Will Wilkinson points to time preferences:

The causes of differences in dispositions to act now to gain distant future rewards are unknown to me. I guess it has a great deal to do with an early sense of the stability or volatility of one’s practical environment. If you come to feel that involved plans tend to be dashed and that resisting gratification leaves you with less than you could have had, you’ll learn not to form involved plans or defer desire. I think having consistently enough money is a major factor in developing the sense that long-term projects can be successfully carried through. But having enough is itself largely a function of being able to carry through long-term plans. Poverty can be so pernicious precisely because it carries with it the conditions for its own reinforcement.

Economist article via Charno at ASC

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How do you test the IQ for an 8 month old?

I'm pretty sure I could close the IQ gap if I tested 8 month olds too.

I also remember some research that someone posted a while back about time preference being correlated with IQ.

Marshmallow Experiment

Jonathan, are you talking about the marshmallow experiment ?

In the 1960s a group of four-year olds were tested by being given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

This makes sense even

This makes sense even (especially?) to those who believe that IQ is significantly determined by non-genetic factors. If education and intelligence take a while to pay off, and are therefore associated with a certain level of time preferences, parents with a certain level of time preference would tend to impart to their children that same level of time preference, as well as the levels of education and intelligence training appropriate for that time preference.

This makes sense even

This makes sense even (especially?) to those who believe that IQ is significantly determined by non-genetic factors.

I don't think there's anyone respectable who believes otherwise.

No, but that's interesting

I think I posted that I thought IQ might be correlated with time preference and someone in the comments, perhaps Arthur, posted some studies.

It makes sense intuitively. Low IQ people have all sorts of negative life outcomes such as higher rates of incarceration, teen pregnancy, and even divorce. A potential explanation might be that higher rates of time prefernce would hinder thinking of the long term consequences of high-risk actions: perhaps not using protection in the heat of the moment or robbing a convenience store without thinking about the permanent record that results.

Granted, these are all correlations, and we don't necessarily know if we're just measuring things in parallel.

Intelligence and time preference

A potential explanation might be that higher rates of time prefernce would hinder thinking of the long term consequences of high-risk actions

Or the other way around. Maybe high time preference is the result of an inability to predict the long-term consequences of actions.

Also... wrt culture

I've read on various places on the internet that in the East Asian countries, the smart kids are the popular ones. What a great culture to grow up in!

Does poverty lead to violence?

Does poverty lead to violence? We recently wrote an article on a similar issue at Brain Blogger trying to isolate root causes of domestic violence.

Consider how poor, cognitive difficulties (that can be caused by the higher levels of contaminants and drug exposure in poorer communities) and violent enculturation (that occurs in communities that are without good economies and educational resources for extended periods of time, and that have substantial numbers of people who have been in prison) contribute to domestic violence and other violent and criminal behavior.

I would like to read your comments on our article at our site. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Shaheen

More controls

Granted, blacks score worse than whites on intelligence tests. But Mr Fryer looked at data from new tests on very young children. At eight months to a year, he found almost no racial gap, and that gap disappeared entirely when he added controls for such things as low birth weight.

I saw the original manuscript. It originally read,

he found almost no racial gap, and that gap disappeared entirely when he added controls for such things as low birth weight and skin pigmentation.

I know I know. Bad. Very bad.

Was this supposed to be funny?

Cause I don't get it. A failed attempt at off-color humor or something else?

For what it's worth, I find

For what it's worth, I find it hilarious :)

I'm with Micha on this

I find it more interesting than funny.

South Pacific islanders, Subcontinental Indians, and African descendants could all have similar pigmentation but different genetics. Is there research in the social sciences that skin pigmentation (or apparent race) makes you the target of simple-minded prejudice rather than more subtle cues of actual race (like bone structure or even cultural cues like language or dress)? If so, this could be a way to separate the effects of true genetics from socially perceived race.

event horizon

From the IP:

>When Roland Fryer was about 15, a friend asked him what he would be doing when he was 30. He said he would probably be dead.

About 50 years ago Michael Harrington described this phenomenon as "event horizon." A person can't plan past his perceived event horizon. If a person thinks he will be dead at 30 there is no reason for him to finish school. Logically, he should spend his time pimping and selling dope.

"black" is self designated.

When IQ tests were first given on a mass basis, this country was strictly segregated and there was no economic/social advantage to "pass for black" except to jazz musicians. After 1964, the upper class black people moved across the tracks and miscegenation became accepted in the lower economic classes.

Black culture became melded with white trash culture. Ignoring this was the big error in "The Bell Curve." When the City of Seattle began to promote on the basis of "race," several of my previously "white" co-workers became something else.

In other words, the difference is cultural, not racial.

Anyway, the era of the male WASP is over. Last two years I observed the state junior high math contest finals in Spokane, WA. At least half the participants appeared to be Chinese or Korean. I didn't see a single person who appeared to be African American.

Blacks are dumb. Its

Blacks are dumb. Its genetic. Get used to it.

And wake up. There are more dumb whites than blacks, due to the greater population. Start treating people individually instead of in groups. Get your morality kicks elsewhere.

Or wait till things explode.

Slow to Learn

Blacks are dumb. Its genetic. Get used to it.

It seems to me that Anonymous is the one who is actually dumb (slow to learn, lacks understanding). He or she tells us to start treating people individually instead of groups...but has done that very thing by making his first statement. Blacks are not genetically less intellegent than whites.

One point Anonymous does make that is accuarate is that the cycle of poverty exists for all races. Therefore I encourage you all to change your concept and seek to improve poverty in America...therein lies the answer to empowering future generations to improve thier lives.

Each person should be seen individually and not be as Martin Luther King, Jr said be "judged by the the color of their skin." I would hope that they could be judged by the content of their character and the wisdom in thier mind.

Sweet

So we agree that we should get rid of all laws that discrimintate on the basis of race, correct?

That would of course include the entire body of supposed "anti-discrimination" law, affirmative action law, & etc.

"He or she tells us to start

"He or she tells us to start treating people individually instead of groups...but has done that very thing by making his first statement."

There is no contradiction. There is no contradiction between treating individuals as individuals, and making claims about averages, variances, and other statistical facts. Thus for example, women on average are shorter than men while individual women may be taller than individual men. Someone can truthfully say that women are shorter than men, because when they say that they are referring to averages, not to individual heights. That blacks are significantly less intelligent than whites is simply a fact about averages which has been so thoroughly checked that there is no longer any way to reasonably deny it. At this point only ideological commitments (such as the blank slatism of modern progressivism) stands in the way of recognizing the truth. Similarly, Ash. Jews are smarter than the average Caucasian.

A common response to those who admit the reality of differences among racial averages is to call them
racists. But what racist admits his own race's inferiority to another race? Racists are recognizable by among other things their chauvinism. But I have yet to find anyone who accepts the data showing black inferiority while refusing to accept the data showing his own group's inferiority to other groups. As far as I have been able to find, opinion on the testing data falls into two camps: those who accept all the implications including the inferiority of their own race to other races, and progressives whose ideological commitments will not allow them to accept the data. The latter resembles creationists.