Assortative Mating

If memory serves, both of Bruce Lahn’s parents were physicists. I believe they met while working in a coal mine.

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40 Responses to Assortative Mating

  1. Spangel says:

    I’ve met many seriously intelligent people whose parents or grandparents were nothing special at all. A friend of mine was awarded an honor that recognized him as the best mathematician in his country (in Eastern Europe), but he tells me his father was a factory worker with a high school education and his grandparents were all farmers.

    It does strike me that the pre industrial and early industrial economies were poor at recognizing talent and providing opportunity. They were also rife with corruption. You had very bright people excluded from opportunity because they had offended some local bigwig.

    But I think now a country like ours does pretty well. Not even achieved what they can but it seems many are held back by their own low expectations and lack of understanding of what their intelligence can bring them. I’m talking about the Mensa members with utterly ordinary jobs who didn’t seem to get that they should have pursued something more challenging.

    • jonnystiles says:

      Mensa is the kids table of intellect.

    • epoch says:

      There has been talk lately on social mobility collapsing as a sign of growing inequality. However, it might just be that post world war social mobility was unique and has now allowed anybody with enough abilities to climb, so that the present day lower class is what remained there because it simply hadn’t what it takes to escape.

    • Phille says:

      My impression is that people join Mensa because they realise that they didn’t achieve anything in real life with their intelligence.

      • Edward says:

        Phille, that was Spangel’s point. Some people with high IQs never pushed or challenged themselves, and now regret that.

        I joined (British) Mensa when I was eight years old, and that was my initial reaction to the adults in Mensa (the children and teenagers tend to join because they wanted company and support, or because their parents encouraged them to do so). Over time though, as I observed more of the adults, a picture emerged of a fairly normal, but relatively successful, group of people who were relatively happy with their lives. Most had university degrees. There were a few oddballs here and there, naturally. I also observed, as did some others, that appeared to be quite easy to differentiate between the 130-IQ and the 150-IQ people, though no one ever revealed their scores.

        People’s experiences of American Mensa may differ, of course.

    • István Nagy says:

      On the other hand, Prof Czeizel wrote an interesting book about the most talented Hungarian mathematicians: Bolyai János, Kőnig Gyula, Kőnig Dénes, Riesz Frigyes, Fejér Lipót, Haar Alfréd, Pólya György, Kalmár László, Erdős Pál, Rényi Alfréd, Kármán Tódor, Wigner Jenő, Neumann János, Teller Ede, Harsányi János.
      Can you find ode one out?

      • dearieme says:

        “I’ve met many seriously intelligent people whose parents or grandparents were nothing special at all.” Inevitably: people who are nothing special at all vastly outnumber the very clever.

      • Feynman vs Gell-Mann on "Hungarians" says:

        “Feynman, Gell-Mann and I had dinner together and the subject of Israel and the Jews came up. “Why preserve this fossil?” Feynman asked me at the table, referring to the Jewish people. “Wouldn’t it be better to speed up assimilation?” As I tried to list the many contributions Jews had made to humanity, including achievements in modern science, he cut me off. “Jews in science? Compare that with the Hungarians! Look what an impact they’ve had!” To which Gell-Mann responded: “Don’t you know that all those Hungarians were Jews?” And apparently, he didn’t.”

        — from Yuval Ne’eman’s essay on Feynman, “The Elvis of Science”

    • gwern says:

      I’ve met many seriously intelligent people whose parents or grandparents were nothing special at all.

      Galton found the same thing. It’s just base rates. P(X|Y) != P(Y|X).

    • Pop says:

      My great grandfather was a coal miner according to the census, and his descendants are full of high-IQ professionals and academics. Coal miners were once more than 3% of the employed male population in the US and England, and in the US case, included many bright immigrants just arrived via Ellis Island who didn’t speak English. Though in the case of my great grandparents, they appear to have been literate since they wrote their names in cursive on government documents.

      On the other hand, my Jewish immigrant ancestors were probably smarter than my German coal miner ancestors, as one of them owned a successful dress factory and a large house within ten years of arriving.

    • anon says:

      This is what The Bell Curve was actually about. Race was like a footnote.

      With increased meritocracy and standardized talent selection (like post WW-II US) you will, within a generation or two, have a notable reduction in social mobility.

  2. Smithie says:

    Ursula K. LeGuin. Anthropologist for a father. Her mother was close enough, with a masters in psych. Born in Berkeley.

  3. Polynices says:

    I thought at first you were making a joke about his parents both working on the same neutrino experiment but I guess those are in old iron mines not coal mines.

  4. John says:

    Chris Langan came from a utterly unimpressive family, but the fact that he achieved nothing shows that there are other factors that make one a physicist besides IQ, nor the counter examples negate the powerful impact of assortative mating.

    • There is a threshold IQ needed for hard sciences, with math and physics probably higher. I agree that beyond the threshold, other factors become important, especially focus, ability to self-criticise, and resilience. Yes, Langan is an excellent example. He has legit very high IQ, but he has never been able to put in a workable package.

      There are phenomenal athletes who never even make a living at sports – the NBA has washed out many guys who took drugs, wouldn’t listen, or didn’t work. It doesn’t mean they weren’t great athletes in the narrow sense. The NBA doesn’t have anyone below a very high threshold of athleticism – even the clumsy guys are more deft, coordinated than the best athlete in your neighborhood growing up.

      If you want an analogy, the IQ-society guys are sorta like decathletes (or maybe even pentathletes). We call them the best in the world, but we don’t really mean it, and it is true only in a narrow sense.

  5. dearieme says:

    As I age I notice that my wife is becoming more like my mother and I am becoming more like our daughter.

    • DevOps Dad says:

      Throughout my life, I learned to my frustration that most mothers will mother until they lose their breath or faculties.

  6. JRM says:

    Why haven’t you discussed Gwern’s stuff on embryo selection or chromosome selection? Embryo selection is doable NOW. Chromosome selection is likely possible in the near future and could net 30 IQ points over the parents.

    • savantissimo says:

      Why? Probably because it’s obscure, you didn’t give a link, and GC isn’t known for asking for writing ideas.

      I like the R code and graphs, definitely a higher level of presentation than in other online discussions and published papers without being specialized and inaccessible. Interesting guy with important ideas, especially showing how multi-stage selection can potentially give tens of s.d improvement over single-stage selection for a sample size of 100.

    • Pop says:

      Embryo selection, beyond just disease screening for diseases the parents are carriers for, has probably already happened. If you are worth more than a million dollars, and doing IVF anyway due to reduced fertility, it would be stupid not to do so.

  7. ziel says:

    I suppose it can’t happen here but some of those mobs we’ve seen protesting at Oberlin or Middlebury sure look like they’d love to be parading some problematic professors around in dunce caps.

  8. István Nagy says:

    Sometimes Ashkenazim mating works as well: Bobby Fischer’s mother was Regina Wender, a Polish nurse and biological father was Neményi Pál (Nemenyi Paul Felix) a hungarian physicist…

  9. Thersites says:

    One day you’ll realize here’s more to life than physics. There’s dirt, and smoke, and good honest sweat!

  10. David Chamberlin says:

    The Bruce Lahn story is worth telling, wiki only tells a small part of the story and of course avoids the most interesting controversial part. I am sure Greg can tell his story far better than I could, hopefully he will.

  11. Joe says:

    I looked him up. It seems his brain research was controversial and important scientists debunked it, according to the media. So I’m assuming it was correct.

  12. I have one side of the family that seems to have a few above-average people, but no one who stands out for intellect until my brother and me. Farmers, fishermen, teamsters, mechanics. On the other side there was no one who stood out especially in either Sweden or Puritan and Scots-Irish New England – farmers, seafarers, tanners. Yet since 1940 there have been a few notables in that latter side. Editors of newspapers and magazines, children’s authors, a Pulitzer winner, first CPA in the state, law professors, Jeopardy and bridge champions. Clearly somewhat genetic, as we did not even know each other growing up. There is absolutely no one who looked more than a touch successful in any field in the family until about 1940. If one had done an in-depth study of the whole group you would have just shrugged and said “Nice people. Salt of the earth. Nothing special.”

    I am the main keeper of the genealogy, and I cannot tell you the best line for IQ with any assurance. It might be the Lindquists from around Lake Vattern. Maybe it’s just that the best of an above-average lot came to America.

  13. LOADED says:

    Careful analysis of history requires one to carefully evaluate a rather large pool of information. Trying to look at things in hindsight is almost frivolous at times, but should be done to preserve our society.

  14. It just occurred to me that William Shakespeare fits the category of genius with unremarkable parentage. That his parents signed with a mark does not mean they were illiterate – reading and writing were more separable in those days – but it is certainly not an encouraging sign for great intellect.

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