Are Life Outcomes Better Predicted By Social Identities Or Genes?
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There’s another new scientific paper out by some of the usual suspects associated with Human Varieties mining the fabulous Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development database for more insights:

Hu, M., Kirkegaard, E. O. W., & Fuerst, J. (2023). “Income and Education Disparities Track Genetic Ancestry.” OpenPsych

Race is widely said to be a social construct rather than a genetic reality. For example:

According to Jones (2002) “race” is only based on a few phenotypic-related genes, not global genetic ancestry, since the few genes that determine skin color, hair texture, and facial features are not informative about other aspects of the genotype at the individual level. Advocates of the structural racism hypothesis frequently emphasize that race/ethnicity categorization “reflects neither biological nor cultural differences” and that race is “often conflated erroneously with biology and ancestry” (Adkins-Jackson et al., 2022, p. 540), that “race is a social construct and is distinct from ethnicity, genetic ancestry or biology” (O’Reilly, 2020, p. 2), that “social races bear little relationship to the reality of human biological diversity” (Smedley & Smedley, 2005, p. 22) and that race “is a social construct with no biological basis and stems from White supremacy” (Haeny et al., 2021, p. 889). While the phrase “race is a social construct” can have a range of meanings, a popular one, given by the American Sociological Association (2003), is that race is “a social invention that changes as political, economic, and historical contexts change”; this social invention is said to be important because “social and economic life is organized, in part, around race as a social construct.”

This is a profoundly silly idea that can’t be reconciled with numerous mundane realities like the existence of the genetic testing of ancestry industry. But a lot of people today believe a lot of bizarre ideas about race not really existing genetically.

If race is just a social construct, then we should be able to look at the edge cases of people who socially identify as one race but are genetically closer to another race: Are their life outcomes more like their social identities or their genetic identities? Most Americans are genetically pretty much what they say they are socially, but of course there is some variance. And the new databases allow that to be studied statistically.

Emil Kirkegaard sums up the topic of the new paper:

  • Egalitarians claim that race has little or nothing to do with genetics.
  • So social race—whatever people perceive themselves and others as—cannot in their model be accounted for by genetics.
  • So if discrimination is happening, then social race should be the potent factor, not actual genetic ancestry.
  • Thus, if one pits these against each other in statistical models to explain race gaps in education or income, then according to their model, social race should explain the association (if any) between genetic ancestry and socially valued outcomes.

The ABCD database has over 10,000 ten-year-olds, with their DNA, their IQs, their demographic data as filled in by their parents, and so forth.

If a child is genetically, say, 80% white and 20% black, his parents might fill in the survey for him and say he’s white, mixed, black, or something else.

Of course, as I’ve been pointing out for over 20 years, there are surprisingly few Americans who are 80% white and 20% black, due to the workings of the traditional one-drop rule and the prejudice against interracial marriage. But there are more in new databases of kids like the ABCD.

When the researchers looked at the kids’ IQs in earlier papers, they found that the kids’ IQs come out more like their DNA ancestry than their socially identified race/ethnicity.

And in the new paper the researchers flip it around and look at what the parents say about their own self-identified race/ethnicity vs. what can be surmised about the parents’ average genetic ancestry from the child’s genetic ancestry. (Parents fill in a survey about themselves, giving their self-identified race/ethnicity, their educational attainment level, and their income, but the parents don’t have their own DNA scanned and they don’t take an IQ test).

For example, if a child is 80% white and 20% black, then his biological parents will average about the same. One might be all white and the other 40% black, or both are 80/20 or some other combination.

Do the average educational attainments and average incomes of the parents come out more like their average genetic ancestry or average self-identified social identity?

The researchers looked at the 5000+ families where they have survey data on both biological parents. As with the child’s IQ, the parents’ educational attainment and income are much better predicted by their genetic ancestry than by their self-identified racial/ethnic identities.

In fact, people who self-identify as black do a little better in income and educational attainment than people with the same genetic ancestry who don’t. This could be due to affirmative action or to other reasons, such as the sample being particularly biased upscale for blacks due to looking at two-parent families.

Anecdotally, I can recall knowing a young lady who was applying to college. She looked white because her father is white, but her mother is visibly part black. She was quarreling with her mother at the time, as teens have been known to do, so she wanted to put down on her college application that she was white. Eventually, she was persuaded that it was in her interest to put down black instead.

She got into a very nice college and even got a scholarship reserved for blacks. At the nice college she met a nice white guy from a nice family who is now her husband, and they live in a nice part of Silicon Valley.

This may be a flukish anecdote. Even today there aren’t many people who are that much on the borderline where their self-identification as white or black can swing their destiny.

But we have heard about a man who, despite his looks, tended to be viewed by his friends up through age 24 as more “multicultural” or “international” than as black, and whose family were prepping him for a career in international relations in places like Indonesia and Pakistan. But then, three years out of college, he suddenly dumped all his Pakistani pals and moved to the south side of Chicago to become black. And he wound up being President.

So the idea of social advancement through self-identifying as black is not crazy.

On the other hand, an earlier piece by one of the researchers notes a study that found a phenomenon of self-identifying as African-American to be a correlate of downward mobility among Nigerian-American youth, because not going to college is something that Nigerian-Americans don’t do.

So, it’s all very complicated.

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