Following the latest John Kerry brouhaha, a reader asked what the average IQ of U.S. military personnel is. From table 2.8 of the is Department of Defense document, I estimate that the average for new enlisted men in 1998 was about 105.
This would be in the 60th to 65th percentile compared to all the young people in America when the Armed Forces Qualification Test was normalized in 1980 on the National Longitudinal Study of Youth's sample of 13,000 people ages 15-23. (This is the same enormous study that provides the data in Section 2 of The Bell Curve.)
Female enlistees would be similar.
The Air Force has the highest AFQT test score enlistees, with the Navy slightly ahead of the Army and Marines for second place.
This 105 estimate would be representative of the years 1992 through about 2004, from the downsizing of the military after victory in the Cold War, when it virtually stopped taking enlistees with IQs below the 30th percentile, until the war in Iraq made recruiting more difficult over the last couple of years. Some of the branches of the military have recently increased the percentage of "Category IV" recruits (between 11th and 30th percentiles), but I doubt if the overall average has changed all that much.
Officers, of course, average higher than enlisted men, although I suspect that the IQ gap between officers and men is a little narrower now than in the past. (Another thing that has improved relations between the ranks is that military men drink a lot less now than in days gone by, partly due to the spread of evangelical Christianity, partly due to modern health consciouness. Officers and men are not allowed to drink in the same bars, so they spend more time together now.)
So, what is the average IQ of officers? I don't know much about today, but a military psychometrician told me that in the 1975-1985 period, the average SAT score (under the old, tougher scoring system) was 1001 in the Army, 1018 Marines, 1051 Air Force, and 1103 Navy. Under the "recentered" scoring system adopted in 1995, those would be: 1098 Army, 1113 Marines, 1132 Air Force, and 1198 Navy.
Converting SAT scores to IQs is a shaky process, but that would suggest about, oh, 113 to 121 for the average officer in the various services back in 1975-1985. (Don't take that as the final word.)
If you want to read all about officers' IQs, you can see my 2004 article comparing the IQs of Bush and Kerry based on how they did on officer qualification tests. (Bottomline: quite similar, with Bush doing a little better. That fits with their GPA during their overlapping careers at Yale where both were C+ students, with Bush's GPA a tiny bit higher. You might think that a country of 300 million could come up with two Presidential candidates who were, you know, B+ students, but I guess not ...)
The average for enlistees (male and female) in 1998 across all services would be about 107 for white enlistees, 102 for blacks, and 103 for Hispanics. (That shows the impressive patriotism of minorities who possess more options in life than the average. A little known fact is that the average black enlistee comes from a home with an income above the national average for blacks.)
In comparison, according to data kindly provided to me by Charles Murray, when the military renormalized the AFQT on a new nationally representative sample in 1997, white males averaged 102.7 and black males 88.4. The race gap was 1.5 points smaller among women. This 14.3 point race gap is down from the anomalously large 18.6 point gap seen in the 1980 normalization, which was due in part to some problems with the 1980 AFQT test methodology. It's also likely that the underlying white-black IQ gap has narrowed in recent decades. Flynn and Dickens recently argued for a large narrowing, while Jensen and Rushton argued in response for about a 2 point narrowing.
Here's something you won't read elsewhere.
It's widely assumed that American minority soldiers are suffering a disproportionate number of deaths in the current war. Yet, according to iCasualites, 74% of all American fatal casualties in the Iraq war have been suffered by non-Hispanic whites. In 2004, non-Hispanic whites only made up 67% of the total population, and, more relevantly, only 61% of the 25-year-olds, which might be about the representative age of the fatalities.
So, young whites are dying in Iraq at a per capita rate more than 80% higher than young minorities. If you are wondering about how I calculated that, it's:
(74% / 61%) / (26% / 39%)
What you definitely won't see elsewhere is an explanation of the most likely reason for this racial imbalance: IQ. To be allowed to enlist, you have to score 92 or higher on the military's IQ test, the Armed Forces Qualification Test (the same one used throughout The Bell Curve.) Since 1992, only 1% of new military enlistees have had IQs below the 30th percentile nationally.
This requirement disqualifies about half of all Hispanics and over 60% of all blacks from joining up, versus less than a quarter of all whites.
People such as Harvard Professor Robert D. "Bowling Alone" Putnam like to talk about how the rest of society can attain the friendly racial relations found in the U.S. military:
“I think we can do a lot to push change along more rapidly. The US military is one example. There was a lot of racial tension around the time of the Vietnam war. Now, polls show that US military personnel have many more friendships across ethnic lines than civilians. And that was deliberate. If officers were told they wouldn’t make colonel if they were seen to discriminate, they changed.”
Okay, but even if we followed Dr. Putnam's implicit advice and imposed martial law on America, we still wouldn't be able to follow what is the secret to the military's success: artificially eliminate the majority of the racial IQ gap by using an IQ-based admissions test.
It's crucial to remember that, until very recently due to Iraq, three out of ten American youths, and a higher proportion of minority youths, were ineligible for service in the military due to low IQs. This means that the benefits of military acculturation are unavailable to those who presumably need them the most. Last year I proposed an alternative to military service for kids who think they could benefit from military discipline but aren't smart enough to pass the AFQT.