December 17, 2011

Mexican mediocrity quantified

Something I noticed last year when looking at 2009 PISA school achievement scores is the virtual non-existence of Mexico's intellectual elite. Mexico's average scores on this school achievement test of 15-year-olds were mediocre, but the lack of high end scores was startling, compared to a similar scoring country like Turkey, where there is a definite class of very smart Turks. Obviously, there is a stunning shortage of very high-achieving Mexican Americans in the U.S., but I had tended to assume that the really smart guys who run things in Mexico were just foisting off their mediocre people on the U.S. Yet, it's hard to find test score evidence that there are many really smart guys in Mexico at all. This is not to say the average Mexican is all that uneducated by global standards, just that the far right end of the bell curve in Mexico is a lot thinner than you'd expect.

Perhaps this is just an illusion because all the schools in Mexico with smart students refuse to participate in international tests? The public school teachers union in Mexico is hilariously awful: many teaching jobs are hereditary, and if your heirs don't want your teaching job after you die, they can auction it off to the highest bidder. But the overall performance of Mexican students on the PISA isn't terrible (it's a lot worse than the performance of Hispanics in the U.S. on the PISA, but not miserable by Latin American standards). 

Yet, here's a 2008 paper on the same subject that takes the lack of cognitive superstars in Mexico seriously:
Producing superstars for the economic Mundial: The Mexican Predicament with quality of education 
Lant Pritchett and Martina Viarengo
Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government
November 19, 2008 
Abstract.   The question of how to build the capabilities to both initiate a resurgence of growth and facilitate Mexico’s transition into a broader set of growth enhancing industries and activities is pressing.  In this regard it seems important to understand the quality of the skills of the labor force.  Moreover, in increasingly knowledge based economies it is not just the skills of the typical worker than matter, but also the skills of the most highly skilled.  While everyone is aware of the lagging performance of Mexico on internationally comparable examinations like the PISA, what has been less explored is the consequence of that for the absolute number of very highly skilled.  We examine  how many students Mexico produces per year above the “high international benchmark” of the PISA in mathematics.  While the calculations are somewhat crude and only indicative, our estimates are that Mexico produces only between 3,500 and 6,000 students per year above the high international benchmark (of a cohort of roughly 2 million [which is about half America's cohort of around 4 million]).  In spite of educational performance that is widely lamented within the USA, it produces a quarter of a million, Korea 125,000 and even India, who in general has much worse performance on average, produces over 100,000 high performance in math students per year.  The issue is not about math per se, this is just an illustration and we feel similar findings would hold in other domains.  The consequences of the dearth of globally competitive human capital are explored, with an emphasis on the rise of  super star phenomena in labor markets (best documented in the USA).  Finally, we explore the educational policies that one might consider to focus on the upper tail of performance, which are at odds with much of the “quality” focus of typical educational policies which are often remedial and focused on the lower, not upper tail of performance.

I don't know what the full story is here. Perhaps Mexican elites are just lazy, and they set a bad example for the Mexican masses?


Anonymous said...

Mexico probably has a low SD due to killing off high IQ natives and lower IQ Western influx ( smarter people went to the US / Canada )

I'm guessing here, but it's as good a reason as any.

Julian Felsenburgh said...

OT: Did you read this article in the Daily Mail?

Anonymous said...

Mexicans are to whites what the white middle(especially Evangelical Southern Christians) is to Jews. Mediocre.

Anonymous said...

How about we call Mexico "Mexiocre"?

jody said...

"it's hard to find test score evidence that there are many really smart guys in Mexico at all"

there are no really smart guys in mexico at all. we don't need to guess about this using test scores.

it goes a lot further than that though. they're not particularly good at anything. for instance there are more of them in the US now than any other group except europeans, but they've had almost no effect on american music. soundscan electronically collects sales information in real time from actual sales, and you can use this information to create the same kind of "which groups do what" HBD report in the US with respect to pop music. mexicans are pretty much nowhere in a report like that. jews outperform them by a huge margin. i don't want to do any math on that right here in this post but it's like, three orders of magnitude of outperformance in a "no brainpower required" field.

Anonymous said...

Mexicans are to whites what the white middle(especially Evangelical Southern Christians) is to Jews. Mediocre.

No, I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

You just so waaaacist!

A modern, diversity embrasing person does not consern herself with whether the help are less intelligent.

Georgina said...

Slightly off topic question: Have there been studies that measure IQ over an individual's lifetime to determine if IQ changes over time. I am wondering If IQ does not max out at an older age then 17 or 18.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you want your lettuce picked and lawns mowed, you don't need or want rocket scientists.

Anonymous said...

I think the high IQ Mexicans attend U.S. & European schools, and their scores are not registered in Mexico.

There is a sizable group of Mexican national students from the Castilian elite who attend private schools in the U.S.

In San Antonio there are many Mexican national students at some of the most elite private schools. Their parents drive expensive cars registered in Mexico. The joke with the other parents that it's narco money -- and it could be -- but I think it's simply a tradition for the elite to send their kids for real educations before coming home to govern.

Whiskey said...

Mexicans never were very smart, read Bernal Diaz del Castillo's "Conquest of Mexico" (available for free on Project Gutenberg, easy reading on a Kindle or what have you, epubs or mobis or html or text versions available) ... and you see a sense that most of the elites that del Castillo knew about were not very smart. Some were tough, and del Castillo admires that, but none very smart.

One thing that del Castillo notes, is that ALL the natives practiced human sacrifice and cannibalism. Which produced disunity and tended to select for the most sadistic and brutal, rather than cooperative. He goes on at some length at how being so few that the Spaniards were unable to stop the practice until years later.

Whiskey said...

It is interesting to compare say, Mexicans with the Irish and Scots. It was fair a mere thirty years after Culloden to talk of the Scottish Englightenment. Meanwhile the Irish save for literature and poetry (to a lesser extent Irish music ala the Chieftans, the Clancy Brothers, James Galway etc.) did essentially nothing. This was true even after independence, and then EU generate prosperity starting in the 1980's.

The two populations are essentially the same, Celtic, with an admixture of Viking and English. Scotland even under the Highland Clan domination was known for its pretensions if not accomplishment in the arts and sciences, while Ireland was ... well nothing. Even the English aristocracy in Dublin did basically nothing.

It would be instructive to compare Mexico's elite and their accomplishments to say, Cuba's, or Columbia's, or Venezuela's (prior to Chavez of course).

What is striking is how little anything of beauty was created by Mexicans. Black people in the US can claim Jazz, Blues, and R&B. These are beautiful things. Cuban music has global appeal, see Buena Vista Social Club. Because it is beautiful. Banda music (one of the generators of thefts of tubas in SoCal)? Banda Music sounds like the soundtrack to hell. And not in a Trent Reznor, NiN cool way either. Or the cartoon Satanism of Ozzy (which at least has energy and melody).

Jack Grant said...

I've only ever known, or seen for that matter, one Mexican national. Very smart guy, attending Swarthmore, who my wife and I befriended while he was doing a semester of some sort of work/study at a Quaker school where we taught, 45 years ago. A ceremonial "blood catcher" which he gave us is hanging on my wall.

He was from a wealthy family, lived in a gated house (hacienda?), not community, and was accompanied by armed bodyguards when he left the the family compound.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it's a cultural thing. They have a patronage system there that rewards people for being family and friends, not for talent. So why should talent be cultivated?

Mark Royer said...

I asked the Prez and he laid the blame on Bush.

wmhde said...

Mexico has two commercial nukkie reactors as well as 2-3 research ones.

wmhde said...

Why it is not rational for Mexico's elite to focus on high value added industries.

The top 10% in Mexico number 12-14 million. What have they produced compared to the Netherland's 14 million. BUT maybe they are being rational. Mexico has a resoiurce called pooor people, It may make more sense to employ their teeming, toiling millions at a low valued added farm or manufacturing plant versus trying to perform software support in the same time zone as MSFT.

Anonymous said...

"Meanwhile the Irish save for literature and poetry ... did essentially nothing."


William Rowan Hamilton, Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), George Stokes, George Boole (English, but spent his entire career in Ireland), Edward Schrödinger (naturalized), Edmund Burke, Jonathan Swift... Claude Shannon sounds pretty Irish... John Holland (submarines), Robert Mallet (seismology)...

And somebody had to build the Titanic!

Cri Cri said...

Mexicans are far outperforming whites and asians in one area I noticed recently: advertising and marketing collateral for products for kids and the home.

I recently saw a Philips Norelco kids clipper. Of the 7 photos on the packaging, 5 were of a light Hispanic, including the large front piece. One was of a dark Hispanic/Indian mixed kid and the last kids was a lighter African kids.

Bruce Charlton said...

Statistical assumptions

It is worth noting that frequentist statistics are built on the assumption of no difference between groups (that two groups are assumed to be random samples from a single population).

From this assumption, which has nothing whatsoever to do with reality (and is essentially an historical accident derived from the work of Fisher on crop yields), we tend to assume no difference between groups unless 'proven' otherwise.

Yet, in the case of human groups separated by scores of generations, and when looking at traits (such as 'g' and personality) which 1. substantially affect reproductive success, and 2. are substantially heritable - then this assumption of sameness is irrational.

In other words, it would make more sense, scientifically (as opposed to statistically) to *expect* to find important differences in cognitive abilities and dispositions (including their magnitude and distribution) between separated human populations.

Indeed, that was pretty much always the case in the past - people expected that 'strange' people would be different from themselves - often exaggerating the degree of difference to an absurd extent in travellers tales.

We have gone crazily far in the opposite direction and not only expect, but statistically assume that there are *no* differences in the mean and standard deviation of traits, and that apparent differences are due to sampling biases - except when this probability is very (albeit arbitrarily) low.

In practice, as you know, there is never enough evidence to reject the 'null hypothesis' that all populations everywhere are actually one population varying randomly - the null hypothesis can always be saved by ever more attention on sampling errors - when people really want to save it.

And failing to reject the null hypothesis is falsely assumed to be 'proving' no difference - it is nothing of the sort. It is merely the default assumption of statistics, which is an arbitrary - indeed non-scientific, assumption.

(Bayesian statistics claimes to overcome this problem of frequentist statistics, but I think it leads to other problems and disagreements. In fact, common sense/ built-in human reason is enough to overcome the problem to the extent that it needs ot be overcome. .i.e The common sense that if things *seem* to be different, it is reasonable to proceed on the assumption thay *are* different, until proven otherwise. This assumption of difference should not automatically be inverted, as it is with Leftism)

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but the Mayans (central Americans rather than Mexicans proper), developed independently - they were completely removed from western hemisphere science - a calendar far more accurate than westerners managed to produce for hundreds of years afterwars, and a place value numerical symbol system involving a zero, something the west imported from the east in medieval times.
Apart from not having a wheel, Aztec civilzation was fairly advanced.And what about the great Amerindian contribution to agriculture? how the potato kept untold millions of Europeans alive?, or tobacco a habit that captured billions?
Not wishing to engage in an ethnic pissing up a wall contest, Amerindians achieved far, far more than black Africans, although africans were always in contact with technological development from the north.

eh said...

The way things are going immigration-wise...

Just wait a couple of generations and you can recycle this post by changing the word "Mexican" to "American".

But I'm sure that if a Republican wins the election, we can prevent this.

dearieme said...

"George Boole (English, but spent his entire career in Ireland), Edward Schrödinger (naturalised)": oh you sarcastic brute.

rob said...

Mexico is a middle income country, but mostly because it's a big ass Guatemala that was smart enough to be right next to the US. On their own they'd probably be much more like the other Central American countries. What did the Mexican elite make their fortunes doing? Were they industrialists, brilliant technical minds who received billions in the IPOs for their internet startups? Nah, they were landlords. It doesn't take great brains to stay on top. Combine that with the profound mediocitry of part-Spanish populations everywhere, and Mexico's elite is going to be way dumber than the PCI would suggest. Ruthlessness is much more important than intelligence for maximizing output of one's fruit-pickers.

Freddy Rumson said...

Mexico is backwards- women in Mexico City must ride a separate bus to avoid serial groping.

Good thing feminists like Hillary Clinton and Lani Gunier are so behind importing masses of illiterate and violent Mexicans

Freddy Rumson said...


Irish are Roman Catholic

Scots are Protestant

Francis Schaeffer made this observation in the 1970s

Anonymous said...

what if the high iq families have been coming to the US since the 1800s? Here in MN, there's a joke that every time an Iowan moves to MN, the average IQ in both states drops. Seems that 200 years is long enough to see that effect borne out by the data.

It also explains some of the pro-amnesty emotions. GWB gave speeches where he seemed to say that he thought Mexican illegal immigrants who got to Texas and established themselves were plucky, and therefore, had net positive traits,including higher intelligence than those who hadn't negotiated the various means of crossing the border illegally. It may be that many folks think you have to be pretty bright to manage to be a successful illegal, so it's good to have them granted amnesty.

Right-wing conspirator said...

Mexicans are to whites what the white middle(especially Evangelical Southern Christians) is to Jews. Mediocre.

Yes, and in the same way that Mexicans come to take advantage of the society that Whites built, Whites come to take advantage of the society that Jews built. Oh, wait...

JayMan said...

For whatever reason, as the first commentator noticed, Mexico may have a low SD, perhaps lower than most other places. This would produce a dearth of individuals at the top of the IQ curve.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I've only ever known, or seen for that matter, one Mexican national.

Where the hell do you live? I see a dozen Mexican nationals just driving to/from work every day. Entire sections of metro Atlanta and the State are now permanently Mexican. And you mention that you saw ONE upper-caste Iberian forty-five years ago at a Quaker school? Did you retire to a cave in rural Montana?

Anon87 said...

This reminds me of a recent discussion on the McLaughlin Group:

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why isn't anybody talking about what these technically illegal are, what they contribute to science, what they're contributing to medicine --

MR. BUCHANAN: Because you'd lose the election, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- what they're contributing to law, what they're contributing --

MR. PAGE: Among Republicans you would.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to the highest level of our society and how we need them because the so-called white population, if that can be defined --

The first thought that popped into my head was, "like who?". I would seriously like to know who these contributors are, and what their major accomplishments are.

Anonymous said...

But at least Mexicans are the best at being mediocre.

Anonymous said...

From a meritocratic state to a mediocratic state.

Challenging Duelism said...

Classic pseudo-scientific rant to cover up racism.

Author clearly doesn't know shit about psychology or culture or education, let alone how these interact.

And by psychology, I also mean IQ. And by education, I don't just mean PISA.

I'd go on a rant about how this really works, but it's clear to me that the comments on here are a bull shit loop.

So unless someone comes back and asks for a lecture in psychology from a person who is actually specialises in it, I will leave this alone for now.

And yes, I am swearing, because this is a bit like when Darwinism was turned into eugenics. A complete misappropriation of the facts distorted into the image of elitist assholes bent on making everyone like themselves, and killing anyone who isn't.

As a scientist, and a human being, I will not stand for that.

Anonymous said...

The first thought that popped into my head was, "like who?". I would seriously like to know who these contributors are, and what their major accomplishments are.

Quick, someone tell McLaughlin about the telephone.

I love how everything more than 10 years old is "quaint" to this class of people, but the idea of sending ideas across borders still hasn't settled into their heads.

How did China ever manage a phone network?

roy said...

Challenging Duelism,

So you stopped by to tell us how wrong Steve is, but you can't be bothered to tell us why...

Wow, how convincing you are.

dcite said...

William Rowan Hamilton, Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), George Stokes, George Boole (English, but spent his entire career in Ireland), Edward Schrödinger (naturalized), Edmund Burke, Jonathan Swift... Claude Shannon sounds pretty Irish... John Holland (submarines), Robert Mallet (seismology)...

And somebody had to build the Titanic!"

One of two (white, not the Morgan Freeman fantasy black scientist) scientists who invented a prosthetic tale for the dolphin, was an Irishman. The other had a Slavic name.
They were both squished into one majic black.

Anonymous said...

Some educators in Mexico have taken issue with the methods in which the PISA was performed in Mexico. Municipalities in Mexico with the highest educational performance rankings, Monterrey, Queretaro, Guadalajara, Merida, Puebla and Mexico City were excluded from partaking in the PISA test as local PISA officials concluded that the quality of education in these municipalities were substantially higher than the national average or that of rural municipalities throughout the country and that it would skew the overall test results. Critics of this decision have repeatedly raised the point that these 6 municipalities should be included into the PISA testing circuit as they combined make up a full 30% of the Mexican population and these few municipalities are the driving educational, economic and social forces of Mexico.