March 1, 2008

WSJ wonders: Why Is Finland So Finlandy?

From the Wall Street Journal:

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

Gosh, I wonder what the reason could be. I'm totally baffled. It's not like Minnesota kids usually score near the top of the NAEP tests in America.

Oh, wait, they do…

I wrote in last year:

In 2005, the Washington Post sent two reporters to Finland for several weeks to find out why Finland has "the world's best educational system, produces such talented musicians and architects, and has more cell phones per capita than Japan and America."

Sitting here in my pajamas in California, I could have saved the Washington Post all the expense. The most important reason why Finland is so Finlandy is because it is full of Finns.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population is 93.4 percent Finnish. The biggest minority group at 5.7 percent is ... Swedes. Then come Russians at 0.4 percent and Estonians at 0.2 percent. Roma (Gypsies) make up 0.2 percent and the Sami (Laplanders) are 0.1 percent.

Finland maintains its borders and thus it can maintain a governmental and social system well suited to its unique population.

Of course, all these American educators will go over to Finland for a look-see and take home the exact wrong message to their schools in the 'hood: We need less discipline!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

But Steve, I'm told over and over again that we all have the same DNA...

Anonymous said...

Big difference from the "over-achiever" kids whose parents harangue them constantly to study more, become a doctor, become a lawyer, etc. Sounds like the Finns are just naturally bright and don't need all that drilling to perform well. Good for them.

Grumpy Old Man said...

The average IQ is only 97, according to this.

So presumably the claim is that ethnic homogeneity improves educational results.

Non-anecdotal evidence?

Anonymous said...

Is the CIA saying there are no Turks, Bosnians, or Africans in Finland? Because the numbers given add to 100%.

Anonymous said...

You're forgetting Occam's eraser: "Racial entities must not be multiplied at all."

Frauenhoffer said...

It's all about the Narrative,baby.

Empiricism:any theory that does not conform to observed reality is an invalid theory.

Post Modernism:any reality that does not conform to theory is an invalid reality.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I agree with what fred said (or "rightsaidfred said" said). Isn't 98% of our DNA the same? Isn't it horribly racist to even think it has to do with being Finn-icky? How can it be with anything to do with skin pigmentation? The brain is the same color everywhere -- just like the kidney and the heart.

My guess is because they listen to rap music. You can't go wrong with that.


Anonymous said...

Yep, I'll bet that's a large part of it. But it probably matters too that Finns bring their children up well. At least, judging by the Finnish exchange pupils that we've had staying with us. On a similarly tiny, biased sample, the Portugese do well and the Frogs and Krauts less well.

Glaivester said...

On the other hand, the new wave band Split Enz is not Finlandy at all (more New Zealandy, really), and it has two Finns in it. :)

Oh - by "Finn" were you referring to people who are Finnish rather than to people who are named Finn?

Anonymous said...

Shhh, Steve, you have stumbled upon the Finnish plan to take over the world. Get other countries to relax their educational standard by focusing on the wrong parts of Finnish education ...

Anonymous said...

Sleep should check out the UP - pronounced "You-pee," as in Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. It's home to tons of Finns. They came over in the late 19th century.

As for the best educated Swedish Finns, the most well known is Linus Torvalds.

I spent two days in Helsinki in the fall of 1978. Took the ferry over from Stockholm. Partied all night with the Finns and Swedes on board. Next morning the Finns could barely move as they had had so much to drink the night before. They hired some of my classmates to carry shopping bags of duty-free booze off the ferry.

You shouldn't be too hard on the Finns. Nokia is headquartered there. It's the world's largest handset maker, with around 40% market share. Not bad for a country that used to be under the thumb of the Russians.

Oh yeah, don't mention the Russians. I was a naive college student, and mentioned "Russification" to a Finn we met on board. Big, big mistake.

Anonymous said...

Is the CIA saying there are no Turks, Bosnians, or Africans in Finland?

They're most likely only looking at citizens or the old minorities. I happen to have the 2005 statistics. There were 2621 citizens of Turkey, 1584 citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and 10710 from various African countries in a total of 113852 foreigners. The Africans include a lot of Arabs and a half are Somalis who were let in a refugee experiment in the 1990s. The way it's working, attitudes have turned pretty strongly against refugee importation, but that's not turning into policy, that's turning into a giant social engineering program to make us all less racist.

As for the IQ difference compared to Swedes, it may or may not be genetic; it's easy to come up with a story for both. Over the past millenium, Finns have experienced some pretty massive brain-drain to Swedes, who made up the bourgeoisie and the upper classes. A lot of those "Swedes" in Finland descend from other ethnicities (mostly Finns) who assimilated into the Swedish classes during Swedish rule. Still, today there is no longer a productivity difference between Swedish and Finnish speakers (but Swedish-speakers still have a lot more old capital) and the main reason an education diffence exists on paper is affirmative action (we've been doing it for longer than anybody and the results are predictable).

A non-genetic explanation might be that Finland was still a very underdeveloped country a while ago and IQ might've been depressed by the conditions. There was still mass emigration to much wealthier Sweden a couple of decades ago; old people tell stories about eating tree bark. At independence, the country was very poor after a century of development limbo in the Russian Empire, then it was hit by an extremely nasty civil war and having recovered from that, there was WWII, loss of much of the most important land and a relocation of more than 10 % of the people (who lost everything), extremely heavy war reparations (as in, you think the Versailles reparations were heavy?) and having been threatened into not accepting aid (like the Marshall Plan, which was offered but had to be refused).

It's known eg. that the newer generations have catched up with such things as height.

Anonymous said...

The discussion of the PISA exam made me curious about high school exit exams and the education quality of today's average California public high schooler compared to the average public Mexico High School schooler. reports that 13% of Mexican adults have acquired a high school diploma and of those urbanized Mexicans one might encounter in Mexico, 23% would have high school education.

Googling 'Mexico exit exam' I've learned of an equivalency test called the CENEVAL test, however, I don't know whether it also serves as Mexico's high school matriculation test. Does anyone know how rigorous is CENEVAL exam is and it's use? And lastly, is the CENEVAL test more or less rigorous than the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).

Richard Rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Korpitutkija said...

For love of the Gaussian curve
Finland has more Mensa members by population than any other country. Why?


Anonymous said...

If you dig into the PISA data, you see that US whites actually do quite respectably on the math/science portions, at or above the levels of most European countries.

Not sure what's going on with the Finns, though. They score way above the Swedes on PISA. Their older TIMSS scores are not particularly outstanding ( Teaching to the test, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Swedish speaking kids actually scored lower on average than the Finnish speakers.

See for example:
New: PISA 2006 data transformed into IQ:

Markku said...


at the time Finland declared independence from the Russian Empire in 1917, the country was already at average European level in terms of economic development.

The time Finland was poor compared to average the European level was in 1809 at the end of Swedish rule.

Mike wrote:

I think the interesting thing about finland is that its gdp per capita is (only) $35,500 as of 2007, and this is with a population that has almost no minorities. The united states on the other hand has a gdp per capita of $46,000. That is almost 10,000 dollars higher than finland and the US has a minority population that approaches 40%. I think part of this is due to socialism. Finland is probably much poorer gdp per capita wise than it could have been without socialism.

Finland actually has a somewhat higher GDP purchasing power per capita than most EU-15 countries, including Germany, the UK, France, and Italy.

Finland was never part of the communist block. Those countries that did belong it were actually left much more behind the US than Finland and the rest of Western Europe.

The public sector comprises about 45% of Finnish economy. The American figure is about ten percentage points lower.

Don't forget that not all American non-White minorites are unproductive. American blacks only make up 13% of the population. Hispanics make up about 10% and their numbers have only recently grown rapidly. Some groups such as Northeast Asians are actually above Whites socioeconomically - not to mention American Jews. The combined proportion of the entire US population of these two groups is about 6%. Partiularly the Jewish contribution to American science, techonology and business has been formidable.

When it comes to Swedish immigrant stock, Finns stand out as by far the single largest group numbering close to half a million. Among immigrants into Sweden since the 1970's, there have been many Southern Europeans such as Greeks, Italians, and Yugoslavs.

Anonymous said...

"despite the blacks and Hispanics dragging us down."

That's unbelievably racistic.

"So maybe Finland's IQ overall is low, but the Swedish Finns are above average."

OECD/PISA results converted to I.Q.:

Finland IQ 97/101 (107/105),
Finns (107/105),
Swedish minority (105/102).

Sorry to break your racistic delusions.

Anonymous said...

"despite the blacks and Hispanics dragging us down."

That's unbelievably racistic.

The US quality of life is linked to the quality of our population. It is very difficult to quantify the political or sociological contribution of a group, yet we can quantify a groups economic contribution through its academic test scores.

US Department of Education NAEP figures:

Caucasian NAEP 8th Grade Science Percentage Scores
Percent Below Basic -BB | Basic -B | Proficient -P | Advanced -A |
BB | B | P | A |
28 | 35 | 34 | 4 |

Hispanic NAEP 8th Grade Science Percentage Scores
Percent Below Basic -BB | Basic -B | Proficient -P | Advanced -A |
BB | B | P | A |
67 | 24 | 9 |<1 |

Over 90% of US Hispanics score below proficient in science.

Link for NAEP Report for Science:

NAEP scores for reading and mathematics for American Hispanics are equally dismal. Unfortunately, international PISA reading and mathematics scores for Mexicans taught reading and mathematics in Spanish are just as bad, if not worse than those who have fled here.

Anonymous said...

Somebody mentioned the Finnish-Americans of Michigan's UP. Another interesting point is the heavy concentration (heavier even than Jews) of Finnish-Americans in the early and mid-term membership of the CPUSA. Gus Hall was born Arvo Gustav Halberg (a Swedish-Finnish-American?)

Anonymous said...


in 1917, the country was already at average European level in terms of economic development.

Now really? I don't have 1917 numbers, but I do have numbers for 1900. Taken from a book commenters of this blog may have heard of, "IQ and the Wealth of Nations", which has taken it from some economic historian, some 1900 per capita GDPs for comparison

United Kingdom 4593
United States 4096
Switzerland 3531
Sweden 2561
Ireland 2495
Finland 1620
Portugal 1408
Russia 1218

They have data for most European countries and Russia and Portugal were the only ones poorer than Finland. They're missing some poor and populous eastern countries, so Finland may have been close to the European average by 1917, but certainly far from the Western European average. They also have the data for 1930 and then the absolute gap has grown, likely legacy of the turmoils. By then Finland had what Sweden had in 30 years earlier - and the war soon followed. Until recently, Finland has been far behind Sweden in development.

(Culturally we still haven't adjusted to the new position and the politicians are still stuck importing Swedish ideas, assuming that Sweden is simply "ahead" as it has always been. Undoubtedly we'll soon screw it all up just like the Swedes have. No one will soon have reason to be jealous of Finnish schools.)

Anonymous said...

Gus Hall was born Arvo Gustav Halberg (a Swedish-Finnish-American?)

Finland-Swedes were actually extremely disproportionately anti-communist. The rural ones were not too disgruntled peasants and fishermen and the urban ones middle/upper classes. The factory workers were Finns.

The main reason the United States had such a large number of Finnish communists was that the pre-WWII United States was a much more communist-friendly country, of course. Interwar Finland was an extremely nasty place to be a communist, the nastiest in the countries that remained democratic.

Anonymous said...

"despite the blacks and Hispanics dragging us down." "That's incredibly racisistic!"

Have you strayed into the wrong blog? or are you just being funny? Took the wrong left at warm&fuzzy PC Street?
It goes like this: A large percentgae of 800 total SATs, people who can't do thinkgs like read blueprints (as one steelworker famously found out)or read instructions; and people who depend on government handouts just to reproduce (often incessently while the rest of us have to pay insurance) are really a big drag on a country in a big way. We are talking percentages.
In mostly non-minority states, the SATs and the general standard of living are much better than in mostly "minority" states. The crime rates are different, all indicators for "quality of life."
Who's deluded?

Anonymous said...

The Americans should worry more about why the Canadian Students are statistically smarter than Americans. After all Canadians and Americans have more in common than the Finns and Americans. The Canadian educational system has been better than the American system for - ever. Not to say there aren't Americans out there that are smarter than Canadians. God knows there are smart Americans out there for sure. But statistically, Canadian students score WAY higher, and I’m sorry but that’s just a fact. Canadians watch the same American TV, speak the same language, shop at Wal Mart, and have the same American fast food restaurants... Pretty much identical on paper, but Canadian students are smarter. I've even heard that a degree from a typical American University is about par to a Grade 12 education or first year of university in Canada. The American educational system is terrible for anything but American history. For instance the average American’s knowledge of geography is absolutely disgraceful. For some reason Americans draw an ocean on the map where Canada is supposed to be. Now I know the US thinks it’s the most powerful country in the world, with no use or care for Canada (except for water, oil and wheat – mind you those are fairly important). But even still, it’s wrong to draw an ocean on map, where there doesn’t exist one.

Anonymous said...

I believe in nurture over nature for most people. I think each person has a biological capacity for brains (did the parents drink during pregnancy or did they eat healthily and exercise, are they reasonably healthy?)
Then there is the nurture factor… which I believe to be more important. Obviously the parents and educational system in Finland is nurturing their students and young people correctly, as it has nothing to do with their Finnish-ness biologically. As most people, regardless of ethnic heritage have the same biological capacity if they have not abused their bodies. The real difference lies in how young people are nurtured.

gate valves said...

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Anonymous said...

Finland has more Mensa members by population than any other country. Why?