Monday, December 23, 2019

Not what you think

Preparing for a test (Wikicommons - Excelz)

Why do West African immigrants outperform native-born whites in UK schools? This is the question posed by Chanda Chisala using data from the GCSE, the General Certificate of Secondary Education. 

To be sure, the GCSE is not the same as an IQ test. For most subjects it includes things like coursework and attendance. The test-taker is also motivated by self-interest: a high GCSE score can be a ticket to a good university and a good job. Nonetheless, Thompson (2013) has argued that the GCSE has a correlation of 0.81 with IQ. So perhaps the two are roughly equivalent.

Let's look at the GCSE results from England for 2012. They are indeed astounding for immigrant children from English-speaking Africa. Just look at the percentage difference from the mean by country of origin:

Nigerians -     +21.8
Ghanaians -     +5.5
Sierra Leone - +1.4

Source: Chisala (2019)

This academic excellence seems to be unusually concentrated among Nigerian immigrants. Are we looking at our friends from the Niger delta? Often known as the "Jews of West Africa," the Igbo have a long record of academic and economic success. This has been attributed to their openness to Western learning and the commercial opportunities it creates, although the Igbo were, in fact, a trading nation long before the colonial era (Frost 2015). They became receptive to Western learning because they had long been receptive to learning in general, much like the Japanese during the Meiji era.

Chisala (2015) provides an ethnic breakdown of GCSE results for the years 2009 to 2011:

2009: Igbo - 100%, Yoruba - 39%
2010: Igbo - 80%, Yoruba - 68%
2011: Igbo - 76%, Yoruba - 75%

The Igbo started off as top achievers, but their lead evaporated over the next two years as the Yoruba made remarkable gains. There were 90 Yoruba kids, so sampling error could hardly explain their increase from 39% to 75%. Because the Igbo kids numbered only 16, the decrease from 100% to 76% might not be significant.

Perhaps the Yoruba kids got better coaching and tutoring. Whatever the explanation, GCSE cannot be used as a proxy for IQ, at least not for Nigerians. Yes, IQ can change over the course of a lifespan, but not that fast and not that much—unless you suffer a serious accident.

Exam malpractice

There are less innocent explanations for the rapid rise in Yoruba scores. A study of students in Nigeria found that test-retest reliability ranged from 77 to 85% (Petters and Okon 2014). The authors blame the low test reliability on cheating, calling it "a plague":

Examination malpractice in Nigeria has attained a frightening proportion and it is becoming more sophisticated as years pass by. Efforts by government and stakeholders to curtail this trend have not yielded much success. If this trend is not given an urgent attention, it may utterly destroy the quality of education in Nigeria.

Bisong et al. (2009) come to similar conclusions:

The implication of this study is that the cheating tendency is becoming endemic in Nigerian society. A situation where one in every four students tends to cheat in every examination calls for a significant moral questioning of our society. Even with a high level of supervision, as the results show, students are still prone to indulge in cheating behaviour.

In their review of the literature, Bisong et al. (2009) note that "in 1980, out of the 190,000 candidates who sat the West African Examination Certificate in May and June, 46,000 candidates from Nigeria had their results nullified." Cheating is partly due to Nigerian parents, who understand the value of academic success and push their children to get good grades "by all means":

Parents expect nothing less than passing in examination from their children. There must not be failure. That is to say that he who fails is not entertained in any way. Where there is weakness or a psychological measure that one is not prepared to pass the examination, then fear begins to disturb the minds of students as to how to make it. This leads to serious reading throughout the night, pressing lectures for areas of concentration and arranging to enter the examination hall with every possible means to cheat during the examination. (Halima 2003, p. 17)

Halima (2003, p. 19) notes the harshness of penalties for cheating: "in 1983 the punishment for cheating was increased to a jail term of 21 years without the option for fine. In spite of this cheating in examination increased."

Nigeria's cognitive elite?

It has been argued, notably by Greg Cochran, that Nigerian immigrants are skimmed from the top of their country's IQ distribution (Cochran 2019). They are the best that Nigeria has to offer—la crème de la crème. To make that argument work, however, Nigerian immigrants to the UK would have to be much smarter than the average Nigerian, with an IQ more than one standard deviation higher and probably two.

There is only a rough consensus on the mean IQ of sub-Saharan Africa. In their review of the literature, Wicherts et al. (2010) argue for a mean of 82, whereas Lynn (2010) puts it at 66. Rindermann (2013) favors a "best guess" of 75. Even if we take the high estimate of 82, we must still assume extreme selection to get a mean IQ above 100. Is that a reasonable assumption?  Elite individuals exist among immigrants from Nigeria, but they are not the majority: 

Socially, the Nigerian diaspora is by no means homogenous. There are those who struggle for basic means of survival such as car park attendants, cleaners and other menial workers working long hours to make ends meet. But some professionals have distinguished themselves and moved on to become members of the Black middle class. (Akinrinade and Ogen 2011)

Furthermore, some doubt may be cast on the credentials of middle-class Nigerians: "they have acquired a notorious reputation for arrogance and fraud" (Akinrinade and Ogen 2011). Finally, the cognitive elite argument fails to explain why immigrants from Nigeria do so much better than those from Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Math scores

On many GCSE components, there is much room for cheating, particularly on coursework. But what about the mathematics component? GCSE math has not had coursework since 2009. It is simply a timed test. How can one cheat on a timed test?

By impersonation. A "ghost" who knows the subject takes the exam by impersonating the student, and the actual student never takes the exam (Azuka 2014). This method requires a photo ID that combines the ghost's photo with the test-taker's name. In most cases, the fake ID is sufficient to dispel any suspicions.


For whatever reason, the GCSE is too volatile to be used as a proxy for IQ, particularly in the case of Nigerian students. The volatility seems to be due to cheating, as well as to the grey area of coaching and tutoring services. Cheating is rife among Nigerians in Nigeria, and it would be naïve to suppose that such behavior disappears once they relocate to another country, especially if their new country imposes none of the harsh penalties that are regularly imposed in Nigeria.

Nigerian academic achievement may be genuine in some cases. This is particularly so with respect to the Igbo, who have a longstanding record of achievement within and outside school. Unfortunately, genuine ability can be cofounded with fake ability. Smart people are better at gaming the system and making themselves look smarter than they really are.

Indeed, I can't help wondering when I look at the GCSE results for Igbo students in 2009. Every single Igbo got a perfect score—that's unusual even for a smart population and even with a sample size that small. Chanda suggests that year-to-year fluctuations might have made the sample even smaller in that year. Well, perhaps.

It would be easy to say that we need more data. Additional GCSE results, however, will be just as distorted by academic fraud. We need data from real IQ tests that provide no incentive for cheating.


Akinrinade, S., and O. Ogen. (2011). Historicising the Nigerian Diaspora: Nigerian Migrants and Homeland Relations. Turkish Journal of Politics 2(2): 71-85.

Azuka, E.B. (2014). Academic Fraud among Students in Higher Education in Nigeria: Reasons, Methods Adopted and Strategies to curb it. Journal of Educational and Social Research 4(3): 289-296. 

Bisong, N.N., F. Akpama, and P.B. Edet. (2009). Cheating Tendency in Examinations among Secondary School Students in Nigeria:  a case study of schools in the Odukpani Local Government Area, Cross River State. Policy Futures in Education 7(4): 410-415  
Chisala, C. (2019). Why Do Blacks Outperform Whites in UK Schools? The Unz Review, November 29 

Chisala, C. (2015). UK: Igbo Nigeria Academic performance destroys the myth of Black Low IQ. Afripol November 28

Cochran, G. (2019). Selective immigration. West Hunter, March 13

Frost, P. (2015). The Jews of West Africa? The Unz Review, July 4 

Halima, D. (2003). A study of some socio-psychological factors of cheating in examination among students of Kaduna Polytechnic. Post Graduate School Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. 

Lynn, R. (2010). The average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans assessed by the Progressive Matrices: A reply to Wicherts, Dolan, Carlson & van der Maas. Learning and Individual Differences 20(3): 152-154.

Petters, J.S., and M.O. Okon. (2014). Students' Perception of Causes and Effects of Examination Malpractice in the Nigerian Educational System: The Way Forward for Quality Education. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 114: 125-129

Rindermann, H. (2013). African cognitive ability: Research, results, divergences and recommendations. Personality and Individual Differences 55: 229-233.

Thompson, J. (2013). IQ and GCSE Results in England R=0.81. The Unz Review, November 5 

Wicherts, J.M., C.V. Dolan, and H.L.J. van der Maas. (2010). A systematic literature review of the average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans. Intelligence 38: 1-20.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Weird people

Weird people. Northwest Europeans are more individualistic, less loyal to kin, and more trusting of strangers. (Wikicommons)

Northwest Europeans are WEIRD ... as in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. These traits are in turn associated with certain behavioral and psychological characteristics: "People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty" (Schulz et al. 2019).

In a recent study, Schulz et al. (2019) argue that WEIRDness is a heritage of Western Christianity: the branch of the Christian faith that gradually evolved into Roman Catholicism and, later, Protestantism: "we propose that the Western Church's transformation of European kinship, by promoting small, nuclear households, weak family ties, and residential mobility, fostered greater individualism, less conformity, and more impersonal prosociality."

Social relations are indeed different north and west of a line running approximately from Trieste to St. Petersburg, Everyone is single for at least part of adulthood, and many stay single their entire lives. In addition, households often have non-kin members, and children usually leave the nuclear family to form new households (Hajnal, 1965; ICA, 2013; Laslett, 1977). This is the Western European Marriage Pattern (WEMP), and there is an extensive literature on it going back to work by John Hajnal.

Was the Western Church a cause or an effect?

Schulz et al. (2019) stress the role of the Western Church in creating the WEMP, particularly by banning consanguineous marriages. The ban came about because "the Church had become obsessed with incest."

That isn't the whole story. Even before Christianity, Roman Civil Law forbade marriages within four degrees of consanguinity. The number was increased from four to seven in 732 by Pope Gregory III, but in this he was following similar bans among the newly converted Germanic peoples. The mid-seventh century Visigothic Code proclaimed that "it shall not be lawful to defile the blood of such as are related even to the sixth degree, either by marriage or otherwise" (McCann 2010, p. 57). In the early ninth century, the Church changed its way of calculating degrees of kinship by adopting the Germanic system. Under the old Roman system, first cousins were considered fourth degree; the Germanic system made them second degree. This change had the effect of doubling the number of ineligible marriage partners (McCann 2010, pp. 57-58).

Schulz et al. (2019, p. 2) assume that the WEMP postdates these prohibitions against cousin marriage: "by 1500 CE (and centuries earlier in some regions), much of Europe was characterized by a virtually unique configuration of weak (nonintensive) kinship marked by monogamous nuclear households, bilateral descent, late marriage, and neolocal residence." 

Actually, no one really knows when this pattern arose. As we go farther back in time, we have less demographic data to work with, but the same pattern still appears in the little we do have. In thirteenth-century Lincolnshire before the Black Death, households were already nuclear and a late age of first marriage was the norm, being 24 for the woman and 32 for the man (Hallam 1985, p. 66). In ninth-century France, two surveys show that households were small and nuclear among married people and that 12 to 16% of the adult population were unmarried (Hallam 1985, p. 56). A third survey shows that both men and women were marrying in their mid to late twenties; (Seccombe 1992, p. 94). Admittedly, the earliest data are limited to France, hence the authors' caveat "centuries earlier in some regions," but France was hardly an outlier in the demographic evolution of northwest Europe.

Earlier demographic data are too fragmentary to produce firm conclusions. Furthermore, the data usually concern elite males who typically took much younger brides. Nonetheless, in the general population we see some evidence of first marriages at late ages. The first-century Roman historian Tacitus wrote about the Germanic tribes: "Late comes love to the young men, and their first manhood is not enfeebled; nor for the girls is there any hot-house forcing; they pass their youth in the same way as the boys" (Tacitus Germania 20). Julius Caesar made the same observation: 

Those who have remained chaste for the longest time, receive the greatest commendation among their people: they think that by this the growth is promoted, by this the physical powers are increased and the sinews are strengthened. And to have had knowledge of a woman before the twentieth year they reckon among the most disgraceful acts; of which matter there is no concealment, because they bathe promiscuously in the rivers and [only] use skins or small cloaks of deers' hides, a large portion of the body being in consequence naked. (Caesar De Bello Gallico 6: 21)

The direction of causality may thus run in the other direction. The WEMP does not exist because the Western Church diverged from the Eastern Church on the issue of consanguineous marriage. Rather, this divergence arose because the Western Church was assimilating the behavioral norms of its newly converted peoples, including the WEMP. By the eighth century, those peoples were dominant within the Western Church and able to push Christian practice in certain directions, particularly postponement of marriage and marriage outside the kin group (Frost 2017). The tail began to wag the dog.

Sources of inspiration?

Schulz et al. (2019) seem to have been inspired by earlier work by Steven Heine and Joseph Henrich (who is one of the co-authors). Curiously, no references are made to the literature on the WEMP, not even to the work by John Hajnal. Less curiously, they pass over the more speculative work by myself, hbd chick, and Kevin MacDonald (Frost 2011; Frost 2017; hbd chick 2011; hbd chick 2012; hbd chick 2014; MacDonald 1990; MacDonald 2011). To the best of my knowledge, Kevin was the first to notice an apparent relationship between northwest Europeans, Western Christianity, and certain psychological and behavioral characteristics. This is evident in his 1990 article and even more so in his 2011 one:

The nuclear family, freed from extended kinship obligations, is the basis of Western social organization. It is unique relative to other culture areas. This pattern is particularly noticeable in the Northwest of Europe rather than the Pontic steppe region. As one goes from the Northwest of Europe to the Southeast, there is an increase in joint family structure, with brothers living together with parents, grandparents and children. Family historian John Hajnal discovered the "Hajnal line" that separates Western Europe from Eastern Europe, the former characterized by nuclear family structure, relatively late marriage and large numbers of unmarried in economically difficult times, the latter by joint family structure and relatively early and universal marriage.

I suspect Schulz et al. (2019) had read material by all three of us. I base my suspicion partly on their use of certain terms and expressions and partly on their references, particularly the curious reference to Claude Lévi-Strauss as an authority on kinship. An American anthropologist would normally cite Lewis Henry Morgan or Robin Fox. I like to cite Lévi-Strauss partly because I was trained at a French-language university and partly because he was, in a sense, my academic grandfather, being the dissertation supervisor of my dissertation supervisor.  He was also the first to come up with the concept of gene-culture coevolution, but that fact is poorly known even among francophone anthropologists.

Anyway, does it matter? The important thing is to put new ideas into circulation.


Frost, P. (2017). The Hajnal line and gene-culture coevolution in northwest Europe. Advances in Anthropology 7: 154-174. 

Frost, P. (2011). The Western European Marriage Pattern. Evo and Proud. November 12 

Hajnal, J. (1965). European marriage patterns in perspective: essays in historical demography. In D.V. Glass and D.E. Eversley (eds). Population in History. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, pp. 101-143.

Hallam, H.E. (1985). Age at first marriage and age at death in the Lincolnshire Fenland, 1252-1478. Population Studies 39(1): 55-69.

hbd chick (2014). Big summary post on the Hajnal Line. October 3

hbd chick (2012). Behind the Hajnal Line. January 16  

hbd chick (2011). The Hajnal Line. June 30  

ICA (2013). Research Themes - Marriage Patterns, Institutions for Collective Action

Laslett, P. (1977). Characteristics of the Western family considered over time. Journal of Family History 2(2): 89-115.

MacDonald, K. (2011). Going against the Tide: Ricardo Duchesne's Intellectual Defence of the West. The Occidental Quarterly 11(3): 1-22. 

MacDonald, K. (1990). Mechanisms of sexual egalitarianism in Western Europe. Ethology and Sociobiology 11: 195-238.

McCann, C.A. (2010). Transgressing the Boundaries of Holiness: Sexual Deviance in the Early Medieval Penitential Handbooks of Ireland, England and France 500-1000. Theses. 76.  Seton Hall University 

Schulz, J.F., D. Bahrami-Rad, J.P. Beauchamp, and J. Henrich. (2019). The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation. Science 366(707): 1-12.

Seccombe, W. (1992). A Millennium of Family Change. Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe. London: Verso.