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Friday, April 26, 2013

The cognitive ability of US elites

Jonathan Wai sends me his latest paper, which reveals (click figure below) that ~ 40% or more of US Fortune 500 CEOs, billionaires, federal judges and Senators attended elite undergraduate or graduate institutions whose median standardized test scores are above (roughly) 99th percentile for the overall US population (i.e., SAT M+CR > 1400). Over 10% of individuals in these categories attended Harvard. (In the table: elite school = top 1% undergrad or MBA/JD from program with top 1% scores; grad school = other graduate education; college = college degree but from non-elite program, and no graduate school.)


To put it another way, top 1% ability individuals could be up to ~ 50x overrepresented among the elite groups listed above -- i.e., they are only 1% of the population (by definition), but could be ~ 50% of the super-elite. See also If you're so smart, why aren't you rich? and posts on elite universities and human capital mongering (top 30 elite universities enroll over half of top 1% ability students in the US).

Investigating America's elite: Cognitive ability, education, and sex differences
Intelligence 41 (2013) 203–211 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2013.03.005
Jonathan Wai
Duke University, Talent Identification Program

Are the American elite drawn from the cognitive elite? To address this, five groups of America's elite (total N = 2254) were examined: Fortune 500 CEOs, federal judges, billionaires, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives. Within each of these groups, nearly all had attended college with the majority having attended either a highly selective undergraduate institution or graduate school of some kind. High average test scores required for admission to these institutions indicated those who rise to or are selected for these positions are highly filtered for ability. Ability and education level differences were found across various sectors in which the billionaires earned their wealth (e.g., technology vs. fashion and retail); even within billionaires and CEOs wealth was found to be connected to ability and education. Within the Senate and House, Democrats had a higher level of ability and education than Republicans. Females were underrepresented among all groups, but to a lesser degree among federal judges and Democrats and to a larger degree among Republicans and CEOs. America's elite are largely drawn from the intellectually gifted, with many in the top 1% of ability.
See Finding the next Einstein (Psychology Today) for a Q&A I did with Jon a couple of years ago.

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