Correlation Between Income and Test Scores

Scott F shared this chart showing how higher income and higher standardized test scores correlate:

From Business Insider

I think there is a simple explanation for this phenomenon: when you have to work two jobs trying to make ends meet, or work a very tiring job for little money, the odds are that you will not have the time or energy to read to your children. And lots of research indicates that being read to as a child is a crucial determining factor in educational progress and success later in life. If you are wealthy you may work long hours to accomplish that, but you will pay someone else to read to your children. This is, I am sure, not the whole explanation, but it certainly is part of it.

The injustice in this is obvious, particularly as this situation is self-perpetuating. I would love to see churches, charities, libraries and/or the government take an interest in developing programs to guarantee that all children are read to. That might make a real difference in addressing some social inequities.

Having said that, apparently we need poor, ugly people to serve as good spouses, and just make up the contingent of nice, unselfish people in society. At least, that’s the conclusion that two articles in Time draw (HT John Gardner).

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  • Anonymous

    Unless your a religion major :) 

  • JSA

    It shows that SAT should go back to measuring aptitude instead of achievement.

  • Tim Ricchuiti

    The SAT does not nor has it ever measured either aptitude or achievement. If you’re skeptical of that fact, ask someone at Collegeboard what SAT stands for…

  • JSA

    @twitter-23097480:disqus Prior to 1994, the test was correlated to IQ at > .80.  IQ is distributed more equitably across family income than achievement.  Of course, whinging about the unreliability of IQ is a great way to “reform” standardized tests to give greater advantage to family wealth.

  • admiralmattbar

    Studies like this just produce a chicken-egg argument.  Smart people are also more likely to make more money, intelligence is inheritable, etc.  The bottom line is we don’t know if people who score higher on SATs come from good stock or people who are read to because their parents have more leisure time to read to them.  Do rich people really pay people to read to their children?  I’ve never heard of that.

    • Miles McCullough

      There is no such thing as good stock. Social Darwinism is dead.

  • Michael Wilson

    I have spent a lot of time with low income people, my family being among them. I would argue that the correlation in test scores and income is related to IQ with a secondary cultural component. The fact of the matter is that poor people have to opportunity to read to their children but choose not to because reading is an undesirable pass time when one could be watching TV, chasing women, or getting high/drunk. Of course that attitude tends to limit ones occupational choices, but for many poor fulfilling exiting work is an unobtainable dream in the modern world.

    • Scott Ferguson

      While IQ (whatever the heck that is) is heritable, the genetic component is swamped by other factors in lower income households.  While the vision of parents reading to their children is touching, we have to be careful about “chicken and egg” issues here as well (ht admiralmattbar).

  • Anonymous

    How come poor Jesus established a religion which rich people have debated for 2000 years?

  • Anonymous

    And while I am on the subject, how come a poor antipodean librarian can spend so much time writing his voluminous blog without lifting a finger? 

  • James F. McGrath

    Thanks for all the comments so far. I really do think that being read to is a major component. Obviously not having been read to makes you less likely to read to your children when the time comes – or to read for pleasure generally oneself, for that matter. So it isn’t just the matter of time. But I do think that when one pays for child care at expensive daycare or preschool or other such institutions, one is ensuring some exposure of one’s child to reading, in a way that may not be the case if one cannot afford such child care or can only afford a minimal, relatively inexpensive version.

    To be clear again, I am not suggesting this is the only issue. But there definitely is research indicating that being read to and being exposed to educational materials, programs etc. early on is important in cognitive development. And so to the extent that we allow some children to not have this privilege, largely as a result of “inherited” educational and socio-economic factors, we allow those born into such circumstances to be started out in life with a disadvantage when it comes to education, reading, clarity of expression and other matters, which will in turn affect employment and income, and so on until the cycle is broken.

  • JSA

    @twitter-23097480:disqus – The correlation of SAT to IQ prior to 1994 is a mathematical fact.  I’m not sure why you think anyone is making value judgments about what a mess it was (or wasn’t).  I’m simply stating a fact that is clearly relevant to the income correlation James posted.
    IQ is about 50% heritable and 50% nurture.  As the heritable and early-childhood nurturing component is reduced on tests by de-emphasizing IQ, it gives an extra edge to families who can afford to pay for the clinics on how to game the test.

    @admiralmattbar:disqus – It’s possible to determine nature vs. nurture components through twin studies.  I’m not aware of any study that has shown that reading to young children has a causal impact on their IQ, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s correlated with a lot of other nurturing behaviors that have an early impact on IQ.

    • Tim Ricchuiti

      I don’t disagree that the SAT was highly-correlated to IQ prior to 1994. I do disagree that this means it was a test of aptitude as opposed to it now being a test of achievement. I further disagree that the test ought to return to the way it was before on any basis—aptitude, achievement, IQ-correlations, or otherwise.

    • admiralmattbar

      There was a chapter in the book Freakonomics where they tried to find a link between reading to children and performance in school.  They found that reading to children had no correlation but owning books did.

      • admiralmattbar

        Oops.  Should have read Michael’s comment before posting this.  Sorry.

  • Michael Wilson

    The guys who wrote Freakanomics found that reading to your children didn’t matter but owning books did. The reason for the correlation they thought was, if your the kind of person who buys books your the kind of person who thinks learning is important and you will impress this on your kids. Before anyone chimes in with, poor people can’t afford books, keep in mind that virtually all poor people own a TV and a signifigant number have 2, along with computers, dishwashers ect.