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Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence

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Whether Ashkenazi Jews (Hebrew plural form: Ashkenazim) have higher average intelligence than other ethnic groups, and if so, why, has been an occasional subject of scientific controversy.[dubious ] Intellectual successes have also been attributed to Jewish culture's promotion of scholarship and learning.

IQ tests and success in various professions[edit]

Certain agglomerations of psychometric tests, including those written by supporters of eugenics, found above-average verbal and mathematical intelligence by participants identifying as Ashkenazi, along with slightly below-average spatial intelligence,[1][2] producing an average IQ score in the range of roughly 107 to 115, above the general mean of 100.[3][4][5][6][7] A 1954 study found that 24 of the 28 (86%) children in the New York public school system who had an IQ of 170 or higher were Jewish.[6] One study found that Ashkenazi Jews had only near-average visual-spatial intelligence, about IQ 98, while a 1958 study of yeshiva students demonstrated that they had an extraordinary high verbal intelligence (which includes verbal reasoning, comprehension, working memory, and mathematical computation) as their median verbal IQ was found to be near 126.[4] Ashkenazi Jews have had success in a variety of intellectually demanding fields, such as science, technology, politics, law, and commerce.[8][9] About 3% of the U.S. population is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, while 25% of the winners of the Fields Medal (the top prize in mathematics),[5] a quarter of Regeneron Science Talent Search winners,[5] and 38% of the Academy Award-winning film directors[4] have either full or partial Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Jews comprise up to one-third of the student populace at Ivy League universities,[8] and 30% of the U.S. Supreme Court's law clerks.[9] In Hungary in the 1930s, Ashkenazim comprised 6% of the country's population, but 55.7% of physicians, 49.2% of attorneys, 30.4% of engineers, and 59.4% of bank officers.[4]

Ashkenazi Jews have a notable history of achievement in Western societies[10] in the fields of natural and social sciences, mathematics, literature, finance, politics, media, and others. In those societies where they have been free to enter any profession, they have a record of high occupational achievement, entering professions and fields of commerce where higher education is required.[11] Ashkenazi Jews have won a large number of the Nobel awards.[12][13] While they make up about 2% of the U.S. population and 0.1% of the world population,[14] 27% of United States Nobel prize winners in the 20th century,[14] 25% of Fields Medal winners,[5] 25% of ACM Turing Award winners,[14] 50% of the world's chess champions,[14] including 8% of the top 100 world chess players,[15] and 25% of Westinghouse Science Talent Search winners[16] have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Proposed explanations[edit]

One type of explanation for higher intelligence in Ashkenazi Jews is differences in culture which tend to promote the cultivation of intellectual talents. For example, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jewish culture replaced its emphasis on the ritual with an emphasis on study and scholarship.[17] Jews were taught to read and write in childhood. Talmudic scholarship became a leading key to social status. The Talmudic tradition may have made the Jews well suited for financial and managerial occupations at a time when these occupations provided new opportunities.[18] Other proposed cultural[citation needed] explanations:

  • Talmudic scholarship was so respected in European Ashkenazi Jewish ghetto society that outstanding (though often financially poor) scholars were highly sought after as husbands for the daughters of even the wealthiest merchants, who could afford to support the married couples. A father who made it possible for the groom to devote himself to Talmud study was performing a mitzvah. This attitude provided selection pressure in favor of intellectual aptitude, and enhanced social mobility.[19]
  • Ashkenazim (as well as other ethnic Jews) were marginalized by discrimination, and therefore had to put more effort to survive and be outstanding.[20]

Assuming that there is a meaningful statistical difference in IQ between Ashkenazim and other ethnic groups, certain controversial commentators, notably Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran, have argued that there are genetic factors at work.[18]

In the history of Jewish culture, the emphasis on scholarship came before the Jews turned from agriculture to urban occupations. This suggests that Harpending and Cochran may have the causal direction backward: mastery of written language enabled Jews to thrive in finance and international trade rather than the other way around.[18] Similar cultural traditions continue to the present day, possibly providing a non-genetic explanation for contemporary Ashkenazi Jews' high IQs and prevalence in intellectual fields.[18]

Some[specify] genetic studies have suggested that most Ashkenazi Jewish congenital diseases arose from genetic drift after a population bottleneck, a phenomenon known as the founder effect, rather than from selective pressure favoring those genes as called for by the Harpending and Cochran hypothesis.[18][21] In one example, the mutation responsible for Tay–Sachs disease arose in the 8th or 9th century, when the Ashkenazi Jewish population in Europe was small, just before they spread throughout Europe. The high frequency of this disease among Ashkenazim today might simply be the result of their not marrying outside their group, not because the gene for Tay–Sachs disease confers an advantage that more than makes up for the fact that the disease usually kills by age three.[18] However, an examination of the frequencies and locations of the genes for 21 Ashkenazi Jewish congenital diseases suggested that six of them do appear to result from selective pressure, including the mutation for Tay–Sachs disease.[21] There is no evidence pointing to the reason for this.[22] The enforcement of a religious norm requiring Jewish fathers to educate their sons, whose high cost caused voluntary conversions, might explain a large part of a reduction in the size of the Jewish population.[23][vague]

Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker suggested that "the most obvious test of a genetic cause of the Ashkenazi advantage would be a cross-adoption study that measured the adult IQ of children with Ashkenazi biological parents and gentile adoptive parents, and vice versa," but noted, "No such study exists, so [Cochran]'s evidence is circumstantial."[24] The methods and findings of Harpending and Cochran and some of the other studies have been disputed by scientists such as Harry Ostrer, who said: "It's bad science – not because it's provocative, but because it's bad genetics and bad epidemiology." Critics point to studies from the 1900s or 1910s which concluded that Ashkenazim in the United States (the majority of whom were newly arrived pogrom refugees) had lower-than-average IQ, and to the fact that other ethnic groups in the US—such as Chinese—also display higher-than-average scores on IQ tests.[25]

See also[edit]

  • Genetic studies on Jews and Medical genetics of Jewish people
  • History of the race and intelligence controversy
  • Race and intelligence


  1. Backman, M. E. (1972) "Patterns of mental abilities: ethnic, socioeconomic and sex differences." American Educational Research Journal, 9, 1–12.
  2. Levinson, B.M. & Block, Z. (1977) "Goodenough-Harris drawings of Jewish children of orthodox background." Psychological Reports 41, 155–158.
  3. Fleischer, Malkah (29 April 2009). "Study: Ashkenazi Jews Smartest on Earth, Partly Due to Diseases". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Pellissier, Hank (19 July 2011). "Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so high?". Transhumanity.net. Retrieved 2018-01-23 – via Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Entine, Jon (2007). Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People. Grand Central Publishing (published October 24, 2007). ISBN 978-0446580632. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  6. 6.0 6.1 Murray, Charles (April 2007). "Jewish Genius". Commentary Magazine. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  7. Senior, Jennifer (14 October 2005). "Are Jews Smarter?". New York (magazine).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Efron, Noah J. (2014). A Chosen Calling: Jews in Science in the Twentieth Century. Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-1421413815. Retrieved 11 October 2020. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  9. 9.0 9.1 Nisbett, Richard E. (2010). Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. WW Norton (published January 26, 2010). pp. 171–172. ISBN 978-0393337693. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  10. Murray, Charles (April 2007). "Jewish Genius". Commentary Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 November 2007. Retrieved 23 December 2007. Disproportionate Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences continues to this day. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  11. Murray, Charles (April 2007). "Jewish Genius". Commentary Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 November 2007. Retrieved 23 December 2007. From 1870 to 1950, Jewish representation in literature was four times the number one would expect. In music, five times. In the visual arts, five times. In biology, eight times. In chemistry, six times. In physics, nine times. In mathematics, twelve times. In philosophy, fourteen times. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  12. "Jewish Nobel Prize Winners". Jinfo.org. Retrieved 16 March 2016. At least 194 Jews and people of half- or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry have been awarded the Nobel Prize, accounting for 22% of all individual recipients worldwide between 1901 and 2015, and constituting 36% of all US recipients during the same period. In the scientific research fields of Chemistry, Economics, Physics, and Physiology/Medicine, the corresponding world and US percentages are 26% and 38%, respectively. Among women laureates in the four research fields, the Jewish percentages (world and US) are 33% and 50%, respectively. Of organizations awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 22% were founded principally by Jews or by people of half-Jewish descent. Since the turn of the century (i.e., since the year 2000), Jews have been awarded 25% of all Nobel Prizes and 28% of those in the scientific research fields.
  13. Pinker, Steven (17 June 2006). "The Lessons of the Ashkenazim: Groups and Genes". The New Republic. Archived from the original on 5 January 2008. Retrieved 23 December 2007. Though never exceeding 3 percent of the American population, Jews account for 37 percent of the winners of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 25 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in literature, 40 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in science and economics, and so on. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 G. Cochran, J. Hardy, H. Harpending. "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" Archived 11 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5), pp. 659–93 (2006), University of Utah
  15. "Top 100 Players October 2013 FIDE Top players archive". Ratings.fide.com. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
  16. Entine, Jon (2007). Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People. Hachette Digital, Inc. p. 211. ISBN 978-0446580632. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  17. Maristella Botticini & Zvi Eckstein, "From Farmers to Merchants: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish Economic History", Discussion Paper No. 3718. Centre for Economic Policy Research (2003).
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 Ferguson, R. (2008). "How Jews Became Smart : Anti-" (PDF). www.semanticscholar.org. Archived from the original on 17 July 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2020. Unknown parameter |s2cid= ignored (help)
  19. Ralph E. S. Tanner (2011). Chance and Probability: The Limitations of the Social Sciences. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 96–. ISBN 978-81-8069-729-6. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  20. Norbert Jaušove; Anja Pahor (30 January 2017). Increasing Intelligence. Elsevier Science. pp. 14–. ISBN 978-0-12-813430-6. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  21. 21.0 21.1 Bray, Steven M.; Jennifer G. Mulle, Anne F. Dodd, Ann E. Pulver, Stephen Wooding, and Stephen T. Warren. "Signatures of founder effects, admixture, and selection in the Ashkenazi Jewish population", Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 14 September 2010; 107(37): 16222–16227. doi:10.1073/pnas.1004381107
  22. Wills, Christopher (February 11, 2009). "Review: The 10,000 Year Explosion by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending". New Scientist. 201 (2695): 46–47. Bibcode:2009NewSc.201...46W. doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(09)60457-7.
  23. Botticini, Maristella; and Zvi Eckstein. "From Farmers to Merchants, Conversions and Diaspora: Human Capital and Jewish History", September 2007, Vol. 5, No. 5, Pages 885–926 doi:10.1162/JEEA.2007.5.5.885
  24. Pinker, Steven. "The Lessons of the Ashkenazism: Groups and Genes Archived January 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". The New Republic. Posted June 17, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2013.
  25. Evans, Gavin (March 2, 2018). "The unwelcome revival of 'race science'". The Guardian. The long read. Retrieved February 26, 2020.

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