Ashkenazic Jews are Smarter

By Hank Pellissier:

Ashkenazi Jews are smart. Shockingly brilliant, in general. Impressively greater in brain power than the bulk of the human population. How did they get that way?

Ashkenazi Jews, aka Ashkenazim, are the descendants of Jews originally from medieval Germany, and later, from throughout Eastern Europe. Approximately 80% of the Jews in the world today are Ashkenazim; the remainder are primarily Sephardic.

Their median IQ is calculated at 117 in From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice (2000), published by Cambridge University Press. This is 10 points higher than the generally-accepted IQ of their closest rivals—Northeast Asians—and almost 20% higher than the global average.

Other researchers who study the Ashkenazim have asserted an IQ number a trifle bit lower than 117, but all have agreed that these children of Abraham are on top of the IQ chart. Plus, contemplate this astounding tidbit: Ashkenazi “visual-spatial” test scores are typically lower than the norm; this means their abilities in the other two categories, language and math, are absolutely astounding.

I’m not asserting Ashkenazi cognitive specialness because I’m philo-semitic, or a Zionist, or pro-Israeli. I’m pointing it out because it is irrefutably true. People who can’t comprehend the easily understood data verifying high Ashkenazi IQ may not simply be anti-semitic; they must also be crippled in the math/logic zone of their inferior parietal cortex, with subsequent IQ in the ~85 range.

Here is a brief list of Ashkenazi accomplishments in the last 90 years.

Nobel Prizes: Since 1950, 29% of the awards have gone to Ashkenazim, even though they represent only 0.25% of humanity. Ashkenazi achievement in this arena is 117 times greater than their population.

Hungary in the 1930s: Ashkenazim were 6% of the population, but they comprised 55.7% of physicians, 49.2% of attorneys, 30.4% of engineers, and 59.4% of bank officers; plus, they owned 49.4% of the metallurgy industry, 41.6% of machine manufacturing, 72.8% of clothing manufacturing, and, as housing owners, they received 45.1% of Budapest rental income. Jews were similarly successful in nearby nations, like Poland and Germany.

USA (today): Ashkenazi Jews comprise 2.2% of the USA population, but they represent 30% of faculty at elite colleges, 21% of Ivy League students, 25% of the Turing Award winners, 23% of the wealthiest Americans, and 38% of the Oscar-winning film directors.

Israel: In 1922, this swamp and desert land was inhabited by a impoverished population of 752,000.Today there are 7,746,000 residents, with an Ashkenazi majority that have elevated it into a high-tech entrepreneurial nation with the highest per capita income in the region.

Read the full post at the link above.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Amos Paul

    I really just have one word.

    Einstein.

  • R Hampton

    Nature or nurture? A look at adoption records could tease out some evidence; what is the average IQ for non-Ashkenazi children adopted by Ashkenazi parents? what is the average IQ for Ashkenazi children adopted by non-Ashkenazi parents?

  • Henry Shuffle

    See Pellissier’s original post for a much more nuanced investigation… otherwise, you might think he had a racial bias. It’s not that much longer than the above, and completely changes the tenor of Pellissier’s argument. It should’ve been reposted in its entirety (at least there’s a link).

  • Rick

    I had the same question as R Hampton #2. How much of this is cultural?

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    The last 10 years or so have seen some strong and educated criticisms of IQ testing – particularly as it tests some skills and mental processes over others which skews reports like the ones this author is relying on. Africans, for instance, systematically have lower IQ’s that most other races. Red flags should go up any time one people group is reported as “more intelligent” than any other group. Nurture, educational practices, family expectations and many other criteria are never considered in standard IQ testing.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    An article that cites some criticisms of IQ testing: http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/intelligent.aspx

  • Barb

    what are the statistics for Presbyterians :)

  • pam w

    Wow. That is fascinating. In the many circles of corporate sustainability I’ve worked in the past 12 years, there’s an amazingly high percentage of Jews. Really smart, systems thinkers and willing to give their time, talents, energy and money to changing the world on behalf of the common good.

  • rjs

    pam w,

    My experience is consistent with this post as well – easily 30% of my (professional) friends and colleagues are Jews.

  • EricW

    Well, we Ashkenazim may on average be smarter than y’all, but we’ve got our own set of neuroses. :)

  • Joe Canner

    That Ashkenazis have accomplished much in Eastern Europe and the US (and the Nobel Foundation), relative to their population, is a pretty straightforward conclusion from the data. That the increase in population, entrepreneurship, and higher incomes in Israel result from higher Ashkenazi IQs is not as clear, either from the data or from history.

  • Calvin Chen

    Peter Cochran had a hypothesis a while back about how over many generations this is due to professional discrimination in Europe that left the Ashkenazi in banking/finance/bookkeeping (rather than members of the feudal warrior class) and that their gene pool essentially traded intelligence in math and verbal abilities for other attributes (notably, high susceptibility to gaucher’s disease). Fecundity was tied to intelligence for hundreds of years — something that was not the case for many other ethnic groups.

    A similar factor was probably at work in Confucian societies and their civil service exams.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    My 3,000 person high school was half Jewish, and almost all of them were in advanced classes. We were always the champs in debate, tennis, golf, chess, and terrible in football, b-ball etc.

  • Patrick

    I observed this myself years ago w/o studies or funding. If Jews make up 6% of our population, how come a way higher % are in leadership roles in government, law, finance ,business and medical research IF they aren’t smarter?

    Now a question with me is this. It’s been 2000 years since the dispersion of Jews out of Israel. They’ve lived either among the Arabs or the Europeans since then.

    We already saw in Jesus’ days tons of Jews living outside of Israel in the Roman Empire. Hellenized Jews, so much so they had to have a Bible in Greek. Some say the majority of Jews never left Babylon and Persia after Nebuchadnezzar’s days.

    Knowing this, how much of this can be genetic? They’ve mixed with Gentiles a ton. Cultural? That would lead to appreciation for education, but, I thought IQ was static and based on brainpower notwithstanding your education levels?

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    The explanation for this profound imbalance is really very simple. Moses explained it 1,600 years ago:

    • You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut. 8:17-18)

    Their God not only chose the Israelites, but also used them as a sign people. When they would forget their God, they would also be cursed and hated among the nations. We can see both motifs powerfully at play in the world today – a great testimony to Scripture and the continuing interest of God in His despised people.

  • Rog

    OK! But, then, who’s smarter–Ashkenazi men or Ashkenazi women?

    (Yep, troublemaker at heart. ;-)

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    If I convert, do I get that intelligence?

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Rog and DRT,

    Clearly, there are many mysteries, but let’s not allow the grey areas to obscure what is clear and points unmistakably back to a Divine hand.

  • http://j.johnson89@insightbb.com Holly

    That is fascinating. I wonder if it is in part because of what they, as a community, keep themselves from?

    Correlation: Homeschoolers score 20 percent higher than public schoolers on most academic testing. The level of parental education is inconsequential. I don’t even think it has to do with ratio of teacher to students. I think it has more to do with what they are kept “from.” (Now, that could be good, or it could be bad, but in this case I am referring to the “good.”) Many hs children are kept from excessive television, video games, and the constant peer pressure of whether their clothes are cool or their hair is combed just so. I think it frees them up to learn.

    I remember when my first little guys were tiny – they had amazing fire for learning and astounding memories. I saw how they could quote Toy Story from start to finish – and realized I needed to tap into that in a good way. Toy Story was still allowed, but television time was limited (the internet wasn’t even up and running) and they joined Bible Quizzing instead. What they were kept “from” opened their minds “toward” good, academic, intellectual things.

    Might this be the same with the Ashkenazic community?

    Conversely, I wonder about the Amish community. I have a fair amount of interaction with them, and they seem quite intelligent as a group. The highest level of education by and large is 8th grade, but they are not dumb, not by a long shot. They do most of their math computations in their heads. Their 14 year olds can run stores. They are excellent craftsmen and woodworkers – which takes intelligence and skill. They, too, are kept from some things in order to excel in others.

    Perhaps with the Ashkenazic, it is culteral phenom, where they aren’t necessarily restricted, but certain things are prized. How do Jewish mothers compare with Tiger mothers?

    Thoughts? :)

  • Patrick

    Daniel,

    That motif in Deuteronomy there does answer the why for me. Here’s what I take from that lesson.

    The people fail, always. We all do and we all will.

    However, God made the promise and the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

    His character mandates the blessings are forever in respect to things He did for ethnic Jews while they were acting as His agency to the Gentiles notwithstanding any failures on their part.

    Most may not be believers now, but, they are still blessed in association with the fathers and their association with Yahweh. To me, this is evidence of Grace.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Patrick,

    I would agree with you that God’s workings with Israel are not only evidence of His presence, but also “this is evidence of Grace.”

    If He hasn’t given up on faithless Israel, He won’t give up on us!!!

  • EricW

    It’s all because of the Thirteenth Tribe. :)

  • Debbie

    I think it makes sense that as much as the Jewish people have held onto the culture as designed by God and have been influenced by the truth of Scripture, that they have been able to maintain the health and prosperity that leades to academic achievement and careers that benefit society. I don’t know that I would see it as evidence of some genetic superiority. In any group of people, the children who are raised in homes that value learning and a certain level of morality generally test as having higher IQ’s. Unfortunately, evangelical Christians tend not to value the intellect as we should and we have been more influenced by our self centered secular culture than we care to admit.

    Keep in mind that many of the Palestinian people, who live in Israel, have just as much, if not more Jewish ‘blood’ than the millions of Europeans Jews who have mixed and intermarried for centuries. DNA tests have proven as much. The question of nature and nuture certainly comes up at this point. Biologically, it is a huge stretch to compare the people of the ancient nation of Israel to what are known as the Jews today.

    Also keep in mind the following quote:

    “Our race is the Master Race. We Jews are divine gods on this planet. We are as different from the inferior races as they are from the insects. In fact, compared to our race, other races are beasts and animals, cattle at best. Other races are considered as human excrement. Our destinity is to rule over the inferior races. Our earthly kingdom will be ruled by our leader with a rod of iron. The masses will lick our feet and serve us as slaves.”

    Is this quote by some radical element among the Jewish people? No. It is a quote from the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in a speech to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in 1982.

    We need to be very careful as Christians about speaking of one race over another especially based on something as tenuous as IQ tests. All are created in the image of God. All are loved and valued by him.

    Also, the myth of the ‘Jews making the desert bloom’ is an old one that needs to be challenged. Many cultures made ‘deserts bloom’ with irrigation. It is nothing particularly exceptional for people who have the money and technology to make it happen. They certainly didn’t invent the idea. Keep in mind that many of these agricultural practices that were used in Israel in the early days of the nation, are not sustainable. The country is drying up. The old practices of raising olives, figs and other native plants (which the Palestinians focus on) can continue with limited water. There is more a future in it for this land.

  • Patrick

    Debbie,

    Excellent retort. You are right to point out Jews are not special to God relative to non Jews.

    I think if Begin had believed and been attentive to the OT , he would have known the ancient Jews did not deserve the Grace Yahweh bestowed on them just as we should know we don’t deserve it either, so the “master race” nonsense they exhibited in 30 AD and Begin did in 1982 is fraudulent.

    However, I can’t personally find another explanation than Hitler’s or Deuteronomy 8:17-18 above for the excellent track record of Jews relative to their numbers. I’m a Bible guy so it’s Deuteronomy for me.

    Romans says the gifts of God are irrevocable and the context there is about ethnic Jews.

    I think He has allowed that bestowal to continue regardless of their response just as He did with the rock at Meribah when Moses did wrong and hit it twice, Yahweh still kept faith with His integrity and made water flow for the unbelieving and complaining people.

    BTW, little know fact is that ethnic Arabs in our society track perfectly well with Jews in achievement. Above all others. That promise to Hagar about Ishmael wasn’t for nothing.

  • Debbie

    Patrick,

    If Deuteronomy is for you, then you have to read Duet. 8:19-20 along with 8:17-18. Remember that more than 80% of Jews today are entirely secular, by their own definition (and that’s a very conservative number, most people would say it’s even higher). Certainly some very notable Jews have excelled. Many of them were secular. It’s hard to mesh that with the theology of Deuteronomy.

    If you are following current news in Israel then you’ll see that it is an incredibly troubled nation. I read an article last week by an Israeli Jew. He said that Israel has never been as polarized and broken as it is today. It’s not just the conflict between the Jews and Palestinians. He was speaking of how Jews are interacting with each other.

    Whether or not you see the modern state of Israel as some kind of continuation of the biblical nation or however you read the highly debated Romans 11 verses, simply on the level of human compassion for a people who are as sinful, broken and in desperate need of Jesus as any us, it is heartbreaking to see where the modern, secular nation of Israel is headed today.

    I think it is often easy for Americans to romanticize the Jewish people, especially Christians. It doesn’t help them and, I think, has often harmed them.

    And, just for the sake of context to these comments, I am currently in the States at the moment, but I actually live in Jerusalem.

  • Patrick

    Debbie,

    I have no illusions about Jews, no romanticizing. I am not a dispensationalist nor a Zionist.

    I do not think Jews have a special “deal” with God, now or in the future.

    I think ancient Jews were both a type of “believing people” i.e. patterned after Abraham, Issac and Jacob and ultimately a failed, unbelieving people group Yahweh saw fit to document their history to be seen by future believers as how NOT to think and act.

    I see Romans 11:25-26 as stating the authentic Israel includes Jew and Gentile believers and a partial hardening of ethnic Israel is in effect while the “full compliment of Gentiles coming into Israel” takes place so that “all Israel may be saved”.

    I also agree this romanticizing of the Jews by Christian zionists re-inforces the evil of ethno centric racism they suffered from in 30 AD that helped lead them away from listening to The Father about The Son.

    I still agree with the initial premise of Daniel’s Deuteronomy statement, Yahweh made these people smarter for His reasons and they still are.

    NOT WISER, smarter. If they were wiser, they’d love Jesus of Nazareth.

    I see the gift as Grace, even though largely they do not believe in Christ, He gave them this gift in ancient days for His logic and it will always be theirs. They didn’t and do not deserve it, but, we do not deserve His love and gifts either.

  • Susan N.

    In my reading of ‘The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Search for Understanding’, Priscilla Warner (the representative Jew) explained the underlying motivation in her family, at least, for a dogged determination to excel academically. The horror of the Holocaust, ongoing anti-semitism, and a sense of being out-numbered remain at the forefront of the minds of most (all?) Jews. Priscilla’s father instructed her from a young age on the importance of education. No one can take that knowledge and achievement away from you.

    Due to past persecution, and the fear of present and/or future persecution, maybe many Jewish people are motivated to work harder than others — to over-compensate, just as women or other minorities in academia or career will often do.

    Maybe in facing extra challenges, the Jewish people have “evolved” as a generally intellectually strong people group? Maybe that’s what James meant when he wrote of hardships and challenges being a gift — that if we persevere, we will come out the other side stronger.

    I know nothing of whether IQ is strictly a nature, vs. nurture, human condition. My theory is that both have an impact :-)

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Debbie… how do you know that Begin said that?

  • Debbie

    Ray,

    I am so glad you asked!

    I had read it in an article as a quote by Begin but when I went back to find the source it now says it was another person quoting parts of Begins speech and that Begin said he was only referring to ‘terrorists’ in this quote. Anyhow, it is debated. VERY SORRY. I am very careful on checking my sources. The original (generally reliable) source I read it in has now corrected its citation.

    The reality is though, statements like this are not uncommon in Israel, even by leaders. Do a search on statements made by David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. Or just read a daily newspaper in Israel. Somethings are very common place there that we would find quite shocking.

  • Patrick

    Read the Talmud, forget whether or not a specific religious Jew holds those type beliefs. That quote expresses the Talmud’s view of Jews and Gentiles.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X