December 21, 2007

Updated: "Please, sir, I want some more IQ."

From the world of useful-but-not-exactly-stunning findings, the NYT reports that growing up in the notoriously awful orphanages of Romania isn't good for your brain, but commenter Bill figures out something important that's not included in the press coverage. Hint: What kind of people in Romania are most likely to give up their children to a Romanian orphanage?

The NYT reports:

The authors of the new paper, led by Dr. Charles H. Zeanah Jr. of Tulane and Charles A. Nelson III of Harvard and Children’s Hospital in Boston, approached Romanian officials in the late 1990s about conducting the study. The country had been working to improve conditions at its orphanages, which became infamous in the early 1990s as Dickensian warehouses for abandoned children.

After gaining clearance from the government, the researchers began to track 136 children who had been abandoned at birth. They administered developmental tests to the children, and then randomly assigned them to continue at one of Bucharest’s six large orphanages, or join an adoptive family. The foster families were carefully screened and provided “very high-quality care,” Dr. Nelson said.

On I.Q. tests taken at 54 months, the foster children scored an average of 81, compared to 73 among the children who continued in an institution. The children who moved into foster care at the youngest ages tended to show the most improvement, the researchers found.

The comparison group of youngsters who grew up in their biological families had an average I.Q. of 109 at the same age, found the researchers, who announced their preliminary findings as soon in Romania as they were known.

The really interesting thing here is not the perfectly plausible 8 point gap between the poor kids stuck in Romanian orphanages (73) and the ones raised by carefully screened foster parents (81) (and the gap was larger if they had been in foster care longer than average), but the gigantic 28 point gap between the foster care group and the control group of children raised by their biological parents (109). There is probably a selection effect going on with the 28 point gap as well as an environmental effect: smarter people probably are less likely to let their kids wind up in Romanian orphanages.

Update: Mystery solved! In the comments, Bill points to this 2001 article in The Economist:
"The rise in the number of children given up to orphanages also reflects worsening conditions: 75% of children in Romanian orphanages are given up by Gypsy mothers."

Gypsies (or "Roma," which is confusingly similar to "Romanian") have notoriously low average IQs, with very large proportions of their children in special ed programs due to low test scores. The average IQ of Eastern European Gypsies is said to be "below 80." Similarly, The Guardian reported:
"In the Czech Republic, 75% of Roma children are educated in schools for people with learning difficulties ... In Hungary, 44% of Roma children are in special schools... In Slovakia, Roma children are 28 times as likely to be sent to a special school than non-Roma..."

I found an earlier study that one of the co-authors of this study, Charles A. Nelson, did of a sample of institutionalized children in Bucharest, which appears to be the same group:
"Of the 136 institutionalized children included in the study, 78 are of Romanian ethnicity (57.4%), 36 are Rroma Gypsy (26.5%), 1 is Turkish (0.7%), 1 is of subcontinent Indian extraction (0.7%), and the remaining 20 (14.7%) could not be classified. ...

The control group with the 109 average IQ is much different in ethnicity:
"Of the 72 who consented to participate, 66 children (91.7%) were Romanian, 4 children (5.6%) were Rroma, 1 child was Spanish, and 1 child was Turkish."

In summary, major selection effects seem to be driving part of the almost two-standard deviation IQ gap between the foster care and biological family groups.

There are roughly as many Gypsies as Jews in the world today, but the two groups differ by several orders of magnitude in their number of scientists and intellectuals. It will be interesting to track how the adopted Gypsy children turn out.

The good news is that moderate early damage to children sometimes ameliorates with age. There is a lot of evidence that environment can impact early childhood IQs, but the effects of the environmental disparities decline with age as people come to choose their own environments more and more. That is one theory for why identical twins become more similar in IQ as adults (although perhaps the greater reliability and accuracy of adult IQ tests is another reason).

But this doesn't mean that Romanian orphanage-style treatment of kids is okay, even if, as is unlikely, they fully grew out of it and their IQs caught up as adults. First, being a kid is a big part of anybody's lifespan. Second, I suspect that having an IQ of 81 instead of 73 as a kid can make a difference in things like whether or not you learn to read.

The NYT reports:

Any number of factors common to institutions could work to delay or blunt intellectual development, experts say: the regimentation, the indifference to individual differences in children’s habits and needs; and most of all, the limited access to caregivers, who in some institutions can be responsible for more than 20 children at a time.

“The evidence seems to say,” said Dr. Pollak, of Wisconsin, “that for humans, we need a lot of responsive care giving, an adult who recognizes our distinct cry, knows when we’re hungry or in pain, and gives us the opportunity to crawl around and handle different things, safely, when we’re ready.”

That certainly makes sense, since women certainly evolved to be responsive care givers to small children. As I wrote in my 1998 review of Judith Rich Harris's The Nurture Assumption:
Finally, why do mothers care so much? Disappointingly for a Darwinian, Mrs. Harris blames it on The Media. She hopes her book will encourage parents to fret less, but it will likely have little impact on mothers, since natural selection has crafted them so that "'Worry' is a mother's middle name."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

It occured to me that there might be some differences between the kids left in the orphanage and those that were adopted - namely that the adopted kids were normal/healthy enough that someone was willing to adopt them.

Or is that not how things work in Romania? Do you get to look the kids over and pick the one you like or do they just give you a random kid of a certain age and sex?

Eric Falkenstein said...

There are so many null results in childrearing, but, as Steve points out, they don't make sense. Yes, in aggregate, nothing raises wages or IQ, but it sure influences ones profession or religion, and these matter. I think the key is that good parenting is not based on broad strategies, but tactics, so that aggregate data doesn't see the effects. I raise my kids in the hope that otherwise they would 1) be dead soon or 2) grow up to be sociopaths. More likely, I want them to prosper, to be happy. My little bits of wisdom will help.

Parenting is the ultimate management job, and most managers are lousy. So it is no surprise that on average, a management theme is ineffectual. But just as the fact that the average investor is average doesn't imply that no investor can be above average, a parent can make a positive difference. Half won't.

Anonymous said...

Reports of Romanian orphans being adopted in the United States don't mention that they are mostly Roma. ("Roma" and "Romanian" are not from a common root word.)


One of the saddest things to me is that some of these kids actually have parents. Their parents just don't want them and turn them over to the state-run orphanage system. Some kids will run away from the orphanage only to return a few days later when they realize they weren't wanted back at home. Many of the kids are also "Roma" people (gypsy) and their chances of adoption here in Romania are slim.


In the ghettos, health standards have collapsed. Birth defects have risen, as has infant mortality. Tuberculosis has returned. The rise in the number of children given up to orphanages also reflects worsening conditions: 75% of children in Romanian orphanages are given up by Gypsy mothers. “It makes me sad,” says one Gypsy leader, “but you cannot raise children for the 21st century in conditions of the 13th century.

Steve Sailer said...

Bill nailed it.

Only 57% of the orphanage/foster care sample are identifiable as ethnically Romanian versus 92% of the control group of children raised by their biological parents.

michael farris said...

There are lots of reasons that Gypsy kids do poorly in school beyond how they stack up in the Sailer racial IQ caste system:

They have no prior socialization in school skills like sitting still, being quiet and listening to adults and following instructions (all of which are acquired skills). Gypsy kids, while under some kinds of parental control also have a _lot_ more autonomy than non-gypsies and a lot sooner. In short they're not used to being treated like non-gypsy school children and don't like it and escape from it as soon as possible.

Gypsy culture depends to a large degree on being as far removed from non-gypsies and their concerns as possible. Schools represent a dangerous contaminating influence. As a gypsy woman once told me (paraphrasing). "If they go to school then sooner or later they start thinking about right and wrong and that's just the end of them as gypsies." In other words schools can turn gypsy kids into non-gypsies (from the gypsy point of view) while still not giving them any of the tools needed for success in the non-gypsy world.

You can say that both of these traits are maladaptive in the modern world and that the latter is a vicious self-reinforcing circle and I won't argue. They also make it extremely hard to get reliable data about gypsies.

Anonymous said...

The Roma "group evolution" strategy must be powerful given their success at maintaining their population and culture for so many years when working with so little, IQ wise.

Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

109 is an awful lot higher than the low-90s IQs typical of south-eastern Europe. Romania comes in at a 94 here:

Anonymous said...

The Gypsies' grooup strategy is basically a parasitic lifestyle: living of handouts and thieving, never paying taxes, etc.

You don't need a high IQ to do that, but strong group cohesion and identity.

BTW, with respect to the gypsy orphans, I wonder how many of them are actually half-Gypsy; i.e., the illegitimate offspring of Gypsy women with regular Romanians.

Anonymous said...

A tiny observation. It is frequently assumed that "nomadic" (as contrasted to "sedentary") implies you have no culture of your own and/or that you're easily influenced by whichever surrounding culture you seem to be cohabiting with. This is sociologically self-contradictory. For any culture to have continuity (one dictionary defines "continuity" as "identity over a series of changes"), it must have an identifiable set of features. Nomadic cultures cannot afford to be easily influenced by sedentary ones since that would mean their disintegration -- or integration with the sedentary ones. Nomadic cultures are the most intransigent, even "conservative" in their ways and keep as apart from the sedentary ones they are currently visiting as possible.

Only sedentary and well-established cultures can afford to "experiment" with their identity -- and/or be influenced by other cultures. (Cf. the Anglo-Saxon one which, as the ultimate lingua-franca culture of the world, has adopted probably the highest amount of elements from "other" cultures without losing any of its inner strength, and even radically improved on them.)

Another lesson to remember when assessing the merit of "celebrating diversity," when, how, and to what degree.


Dennis Mangan said...

Interesting. When I lived in Israel, I knew a Gypsy who had converted to Judaism and was living on a kibbutz. I imagine that there must have been some strong selection effects there - self-selection, of course. Wouldn't one have to have a certain minimum IQ to be able to convert to Judaism? I wonder whether someone with a low IQ would be able to memorize the appropriate formulas, or whatever else is required.

Anonymous said...

Being a former commie country,they must have abortion facilities out the wazoo!And a pro-choice mindset,I would imagine! If these Gypsys have kids they dont want,why dont they abort them?--Josh

Anonymous said...

Probably none, proofreader, since Roma women are famously chaste and modest. Even when they're scamming old guys out of every last cent, there is no irregular sexual contact. The myth of the libertine Gypsy woman is a creation of the Romantics.

Anonymous said...

You don't need a high IQ to [have a parasitic lifestyle], but strong group cohesion and identity.

Strong group cohesion and identity is not that easy to have. And I think it would more difficult still with a low group IQ. I doubt doing anything as a group would be easy with a low group IQ.

Gypsies have an impressive (from a scientific POW) track record on this front. It is even more impressive when you consider that they are doing it with a low group IQ.

Thus, whatever group evolutionary strategy they use must be a powerful one.

mnuez said...

Two thoughts:

First off, if the answer to all questions Jewish is their "alienness", how did it come to pass that their history is so very different from that of the similarly-storied Gypsies?

Also, dunno about the dumb people being the ones not to exercise (in a different article) or to leave their kids in an orphanage (in this piece). There are so so many variables at play that I'm not yet convinced by the generalizations (though I would like to be, if the evidence [rather than rationalization] supported it). Anecdotaly, did not Einstein and Rousseau abandon (otherwise healthy - unlike Miller) children?


agnostic said...

Mrs. Anonymous is wrong -- there are hard data on "libertine" Gypsy women in the Ottoman Empire. The official documents use a euphemism, like "Gypsy wives who are engaged in untoward professions must pay an extra monthly tax of ____."

Moreover, a few entire Gypsy communities had heavy annual taxes levied in addition to the normal, because so many women therein were prostitutes. *

This illustrates a general point: when you hear "Romania" in some disfunctional context, always ask what the Gypsy angle is. There are many adult film stars from central and southeastern Europe, a disproportionate # of whom are Gypsy.

* See _Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire_ by Marushiakova and Popov (tr. by Apostolova). There's a brief section called "Loose Gypsy women" or something similar.

Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking. What a sad situation.

Anonymous said...

I'll see your unsourced reports of Ottoman documents and raise you my own unsourced reports of LEOs working modern Gypsy scams. If whoring were a traditional Gypsy occupation, they'd be doing it now.

Anonymous said...

Gypsy group cohesion in tribal nomadic lifestyle certainly has it's strong points, but like everything else has weakpoints.

Forgotten (largely) in the Holocaust was Adolf Hitler's second people scheduled for being wiped out: Gypsies.

It's difficult to estimate how many were murdered by the Nazis, but estimates are about half a million or so. This in a very mobile population.

Which brings to the next point -- modern nation-states, even without the organizational talents, technology, and resources, can brutally crush even the most nomadic of peoples.

It would seem that nomadic people's ability to simply "get out of the way" of other, stronger peoples has reached it's evolutionary limits and the best strategy for smaller peoples is a nation-state of their own armed as much as possible against any combination of enemies determined to wipe them out.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Anonymous:

Gene flow between Gypsies and non-gypsies is a reality. And most of it is one way, judging from Gypsy phenotypes. I wouldn´t swear by the virtue of Gypsy women.

And many practice prostitution, as Agnostic pointed out, and have done so for centuries. Just visit Europe.

The only romantic myth surrounding Gypsy women is their beauty and charm, which are virtually as non-existent as their modesty and chastity.

By group cohesion I meant family bonds. The typical highly patriarchal Gypsy family makes an Italian family pale by comparison.
Only Albanians come close, with their strong family clans reminiscent of the ancient Indo-european peoples from which they descend.

evil neocon:

I fail to see how you can make a case for Israel in a discussion of nomadic populations. Jews aren´t nomadic although they do share some characteristics with Gypsies.
I´m thinking in particular of ruthlessness with people outside their group and strong ethnic identity.

Anonymous said...

But just as the fact that the average investor is average doesn't imply that no investor can be above average, a parent can make a positive difference. Half won't. - eric falknstein

Are you implying that fully half of all parents do their kids more harm than good?

Saying that about half of parents will do below average is not the same as saying that they won't make a positive difference at all. Save for those who physically or verbally abuse their children, or teach them bad habits and attitudes, most will.

MensaRefugee said...

One of the main reasons that Nation States themselves were formed were to band together against outsiders and prevent slave raids.

One has to wonder about a group that does not have, nor perhaps even want, a nation state today.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that of the two most notable groups that have kept themselves somewhat culturally and biologically distinct from their host populations in Europe, one is well above the average IQ, whilst the other is well below.

In one case, the hosts don't want to assimilate with the newcomers, while in the other the newcomers don't want to assimilate with the hosts.

michael farris said...

"one is well above the average IQ, whilst the other is well below."

AFAIK it's not possible to administer any IQ test without the subject realize they're being given some kind of test and choosing to cooperate (or at least choosing to pretend to cooperate).

Having known a trivial number of real life gypsies (though far more than most non-gypsies manage), I'm very curious as to how gypsies were tested.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, Europeans have always tried to assimilate Gypsies as well as Jews. Even the effort to have them settle down has largely failed.

Jews of course have always resisted assimilation, a goal much cherished in particular by the Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

There is far more interesting genetics going on here than just IQ. As the orphanage statistics and the long recorded history of Gypsy breeding strategy indicate, the Gypsies have developed a human form of a common animal strategy: brood parasitism.

If you adopt a Gypsy child, besides probably doing less well in school due to lower IQ, they are likely to exhibit many of the behaviors of brood parasites, for example more sibling rivalry and less altruism and more selfishness towards both siblings and parents. Brood parasite theory also predicts that adopted Gypsy children are more likely to run away from home as teenagers than biological children. On the plus side, brood parasite theory predicts that Gypsy children while they are young are far more adorable than your own biological children are or would be.

In our present culture, the brood parasite strategy of orphaning one's children or giving them up for adoption has far more Darwinian fitness, i.e. it leads to more surviving children, than raising your own children. In this game Gypsies are far ahead as it seems to have been a common breeding strategy among them for many centuries if not millenia. It has evolved into genetic strategy, not just an ethnic quirk.

Anonymous said...

Another note: the brood parasite hypothesis predicts that Gypsy group cohesion is more a genetic than a cultural phenomenon. Brood parasites have very strong kin recognition that allows them to, when they "leave the nest" of their host parents, recognize, and selectively be altrustic towards and breed with, others who share their brood parasite genes. Group cohesion doesn't require high IQ or a cultural ethic. Indeed, any merely cultural practice would be destroyed by the strategy itself. Adopted Gypsy children don't learn any Gypsy culture until they grow up and run away to join the Gypsy circus, at which point it would be too late to inculcate any strong ethic. The epigenetic group cohesion that is essential to the brood parasite strategy must include, and only requires, an ability to recognize and be preferentially altruistic towards others who share those brood parasite genes.

Since Gypsies have, if the brood parasite hypothesis is correct, traditionally been dark-skinned brood parasites with light-skinned host parents, their ability to instinctively recognize and prefer each other's company has been rather easy. Put them back in India, or put them in any area such as Silicon Valley with a large East Indian population, and the Gypsy-recognition signals might get mixed up, and they might end up culturally integrating with the East Indian population, despite the large IQ difference (especially in Silicon Valley!). That would be an interesting experiment.

BTW, if you think genetics and IQ is un-PC, try getting a scientific paper published on this topic!

rec1man said...

From Dienekes blog, I found that low caste - untouchable Punjabis are Y-DNA Haplogroup H1A

The Gypsy have the same H1A

which would point to low IQ

They do not carry the high caste Aryan marker of R1A1