For men were born to pray and save

by Kieran Healy on November 10, 2003

Lisa Keister is a sociologist at Ohio State who is, amongst other things, an expert on wealth inequality. She has a paper in the current issue of Social Forces (available to institutional subscribers on ProQuest) on the role of religion in the accumulation of assets in early adulthood. The main finding of the paper has been attracting some commentary from various quarters. Essentially, after controlling for pretty much everything you might think of, there’s a direct effect of religion on asset accumulation. Jews “enjoy tremendous gains wealth ownership” (about three times the average) while conservative Protestants accumulate “relatively little wealth”. Mainline Protestants and Catholics are indistinguishable from one another and from the general population in this respect.

I heard Lisa present the paper at Princeton a few years ago, and gave her some comments on it. The dataset is good (it’s NLSY data) and the effect is very robust, but it’s very difficult to pin down the causal mechanism with confidence. The paper suggests a few ways in which Jewish beliefs might directly affect wealth, but there’s only so much that an individual-level analysis can tell you. Another problem, of course, is that even talking about this topic tends to make people come out in hives.



Conrad Barwa 11.10.03 at 7:20 am

Interesting, does she mention any religious groups who can be said to enjoy a significantly lesser rate of asset accumalation than the general population?


VJ 11.10.03 at 8:43 am

This of course means that the Hasids hands down are the most persistently radical of all Jews. Unworldly, usually eschewing both the pursuit money and higher education, and reveling in all those menial jobs that allow them time and space to worship in a particular time and place; a close knit clannish community of their own creation.


Kieran Healy 11.10.03 at 8:49 am

does she mention any religious groups who can be said to enjoy a significantly lesser rate of asset accumalation

Yes — as I quote in the original post, conservative Protestants are significantly less wealthy, net of control variables.


jimbo 11.10.03 at 2:57 pm

Hmmm… Could the one-standard deviation gap in mean IQ between Ashkenazi jews and white americans have anything to do with this?

Nah, ‘course not! We all know that IQ doesn’t exist, isn’t important, is an artifact of testing bias, etc. etc. Nothing to see here people, move along…


Malcolm Weller 11.10.03 at 3:08 pm

It is a thesis of Richard Herrnstein’s and Charles Murray’s controversial bestseller, The Bell Curve, that Ashkenazi Jews have a highr IQ, about one standard deviation above the mean of American Society. This could be the result ot genetics, culture or the selective effect of generations of lethal perscution. It the difference is correct, it could contribute to the disproportionate success of Jews in many fields.


Mrs Tilton 11.10.03 at 3:52 pm

Jimbo writes of the IQ difference ‘between Ashkenazi jews and white americans’. Hmmm. I had always thought that the Ashkenazi Jews (the American ones, at any rate) were white Americans.

But perhaps Jimbo isn’t really distinguishing between Semites and proper Aryans. Perhaps he is thinking of the community of black Jews in southern New Jersey. They are the descendants of slaves who, after being purchased and manumitted by a group of Jewish abolitionists, adopted their redeemers’ faith in gratitude. This theory, at least, would put Jimbo more solidly into Charles Murray/J. Philippe Rushton territory…


Mrs Tilton 11.10.03 at 4:00 pm

BTW, Jimbo, if you’re going to take up the cudgels for Murray and his ilk, do at least try to get the terms of the debate right. The issue isn’t whether IQ ‘exists’ (though there is argument as to what, precisely, it measures). The issue is the degree to which ‘g’-type general intelligence is heritable. And nobody in their right mind denies that it is – to some degree. The complaint about Murray is that he presented a blizzard of pseudoscientific handwaving to argue it is heritable to such a high degree that there’s not much point in trying to improve black performance by improving environmental inputs.


nnyhav 11.10.03 at 4:07 pm

Maybe risk aversion plays a role?


Greg Hunter 11.10.03 at 4:37 pm

Too many tangents to take…..


Based on testing, and if the sociologist is correct the rulebook for achieving success in life would be exemplified by following the old testament (torah) values without any “social conscience” interference from the New Testament. The IQ test measures one’s ability to understand those rules and implement them in day-to-day capitalist life.

Genetics (Darwin)

The purges of Jews in society have resulted in the “survival of the fittest” model. Which has come to fruition as the children of the survivors have reached the pinnacles of their careers in all of the professions that they may have chosen.

Genetics (Radical – Biblical)

Eve beguiled by the old Serpent (devil) and “eats the fruit” or has sex with the devil to produce Cain. Cain is the inventor of modern society (capitalism).

Biblical Blessing

Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:
Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed [be] every one that curseth thee, and blessed [be] he that blesseth thee.


It is an exceedingly hard topic to discuss due to the radical beliefs out in society and that lack of understanding by the arguers that all sides have to be considered. For instance in this debate, there can only be three clearly defined responses and ONLY one can be correct.

Anti Semitism, Genetics or Religious Beliefs

Most participants will fall into one of these three camps, and will not even consider the arguments of the other camps; However, Life (or God) is funny, and maybe there is some truth in each of these arguments.


wc 11.10.03 at 7:31 pm

Is there data on conservative protestants in blue state vs. red state?


Guessedworker 11.10.03 at 8:20 pm

Hello again Mrs T,

Nice to see you’re so gentle with Jimbo. Quick question: since the JBHE has conceded that their last 14-year gap study discontinues the catch-up by blacks tentatively identified in the previous study, do you think they are still justified in laying the blame solely on racism in society and in schools?


jimbo 11.10.03 at 10:34 pm

Mrs. T:

Oh, so that’s the terms of the debate this month? I honestly can’t be bothered to keep up. The terms shift to whatever the opponents of IQ heritability need it to be to avoid confronting the unmentionable topic. Steven Jay Gould, he of the “lets criticize discredited 19th century ideas in the hope that mud will stick on modern scientists who don’t believe in them” school was a master at it. I hope for your guy’s sake you can find someone equally good at it to replace him.

Look: IQ differences between genetically similar groups (“races”, “ethnicities”, whatever you wanna call them) exist. Short of genetic engineering, there is not anything we can do about it. Despite what you may think, this is not the end of the world. It does not mean that the groups that are on the right side of the bell curve have a divine right to rule. It does not mean we must consign the groups on the right side to whatever fate that awaits them. It does not even mean that ameliorative programs that seek to garantee a decent life for everyone no matter where they came out in the IQ lottery are not a damn good idea.

But just pretending that it the elephant is not in the room just doesn’t cut it, people. At the very least, it dooms you to repeatedly finding yourself steping in steaming piles doo-doo, wondering how they got there…


churchill 11.10.03 at 10:59 pm

This study is full of holes. It is a fact that the so called “bible belt” is much poorer compared to other states. As far as jews, a good percentage of jews are non-observing. Are non-observing news poorer than observing jews?


William 11.11.03 at 12:25 am

Isn’t it obvious that the only needed — or possible, really — causal mechanism is that God is rewarding his true believers?

Yes, I am joking.


wcw 11.11.03 at 6:14 am

in re: the NLSY, I thought that its sample was considered somewhat unrepresentative — but I’m afraid I can’t say who said it. oh, wait, Google remembers:

“..the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY), which was not a study that was particularly representative of the United States population.”

hard for me to check Keister’s model without a subscription, but I’ll trust her results for now.

as for Jimbo, I’m going to try responding without being insulting, but it’ll be hard to do that to someone citing Charles “I-Don’t-Know-What-Correlation-Is” Murray (credit where credit is due, the nickname is TM DeLong, I think).

to his (and your) main point, that, “IQ differences between genetically similar groups exist. Short of genetic engineering, there is not anything we can do about it.”

part one: yes, differences exist. oddly, racial differences are swamped by those of, off the top of my head, parental education and income. which brings me to part two: the correlations (spurious though some may be) should not lead anyone to make the blind leap you (and, I guess, Murray) do, that we might as well accept IQ differences because.. what’s your argument again? oh, right — poor children of less well-educated parents just gotta be dumb — they just gotta!

a bit more academically, just for the heck of it I kicked around California’s school score data the other day (and you can too: download R from and the data from I didn’t waste a lot of time on a refined model; a simple OLS regression of school API on average parent education and percentage of students on subsidized meals explained, in round numbers, three-quarters of the score variation (depending on school level; I mostly played with elementary schools). adding race variables to the regression barely moved the r-squared at all.

now, I am loathe to make the kind of causal leaps in which you’re delighting, but it seems to me that William of Ockham might right now be thinking that the parsimonious parental-income-and-education model is a lot closer to the truth than the genetic-engineering-or-bust fantasy you seem to prefer.

still, I’m not taking sides. you and big Bill slug it out, please. do note, though, that his razor seems sharper than yours.


Guessedworker 11.11.03 at 12:22 pm


The razor in question seems sharper to those whose principal objective is to preserve a belief in the native equality of man. To the rest it isn’t a razor at all but a gag. Racial inequality, they would point out, is patently obvious in every in every other field of human endeavour. Why not in intelligence?

This is a discussion of twenty-five years standing. It has not been resolved by any studies, claims, counter-claims, exposures et alia. It cannot be resolved thereby because it is about political belief. Mine, for what it is worth, is that human bio-diversity exists across the spectrum of race and ability. Does that impact on the theoretical likelihood of all the races someday producing equal average educational attainments? You bet. We don’t chase the dream of a Peruvian Indian sprinter catching a West African on the line at the next Olympics because it can’t be delivered.

It’s one thing to want to help the poor and disadvantaged. It’s another to insist on the absolute surety of outcome without evidence to that effect. It’s another still to kick one man with white skin out of the boat and let another with clack skin take the place.

In any case, H-BD is on the genetic horizon. Watch and wait.


dsquared 11.11.03 at 12:53 pm

IQ differences between genetically similar groups (“races”, “ethnicities”, whatever you wanna call them) exist

I hereby announce an informal editorial policy. Anyone making this statement or equivalent on Crooked Timber is, from hereforth and retrospectively, obliged to provide, within 24 hours, a rigorous genetic definition of what he (or she) means by a race, in context. Failure to do this will be punishable by being referred to as a “fucking idiot”, once, and as a “racist”, twice, by me, in bold italic type.

Jimbo, Guessedworker, the clock is ticking …


des 11.11.03 at 5:04 pm

The AAA statement on race is a good place to start thinking about the biology of “race”, although the challengees are unlikely to find it helpful.

Since “race” really mostly amounts to Folk Phenotypology anyway, I look forward to joining in the chorus of self-congratulatory taunting of wrong thinkers tomorrow.


jimbo 11.11.03 at 5:31 pm


And here I thought one of your New Year’s resolutions was to not discuss this…

But, if you must, you really should discuss it with these guys:

You see, they’re under the mistaken impression that they are selling a commercial test that can tell someone’s “race” from a blood sample:

“We have performed several blind test samples for police departments to prove our technology. A west coast police department sent 16 samples collected from members of the department. The results were correct for all 16 samples. Similarly, an east coast police department sent 20 blind samples and DNAPrintTM accurately predicted the genetic heritage of all 20 people (the study was limited to four categories, Sub-Saharan African, Native American, East Asian, and Indo-European).”


jimbo 11.11.03 at 5:37 pm

And as for a good, workable definition of what a race is, no one has done it better than Steve Sailer:


wcw 11.11.03 at 7:07 pm

to jimbo:

congratulations on remaining silent on race and IQ when opening your mouth further would have removed all doubt about the quality of your thinking. it’d have been nice if you’d moderated your thinking based on the new information, but perhaps that was too much to hope.

to gastarbeiter:

your implication I “insist on the absolute surety of outcome without evidence to that effect” is pretty funny, given I presented hard data you could check yourself. I know it’s hard to argue with data and analysis, but try. the links to a no-cost, quality statistical package and a great, big data set are in my original post. to reiterate my results from a naive OLS regression, crudely controlling for parent’s income and education “the races” (such as they are currently measured) already produce mostly “equal average educational attainments” in California. theoretical likelihood, my shiny metal butt.

in re, “[r]acial inequality.. is patently obvious,” let’s see the papers. Olympic medals don’t carry a lot of objective analytical weight. that said, next time try reading what someone writes before responding. one of the first things I wrote was, “differences exist.” yes, Virginia, there are human subpopulations with common genetic traits. is someone of African or Meditteranean descent no longer more likely to have a sickle-cell gene? my point was quite specific to the tedious The-Bell-Curve regurgitation going on in the posts before mine — a point you attempted entirely to finesse the burden of answering.


jimbo 11.11.03 at 8:14 pm


Thank you so much for your gracious condecension. Thanks for the links – when I have some time, I’ll have to look into them. And BTW – I have not mentioned Murray or the Bell Curve – you must being seeing things…


godlesscapitalist 11.11.03 at 8:53 pm

Hey, Dsquared:

obliged to provide, within 24 hours, a rigorous genetic definition of what he (or she) means by a race, in context.

I’m a geneticist. So let’s begin. First, check out:

  1. MIT technology review article on the The Haplotype Map (mirrored on our site)

    formed a $100 million, three-year plan to chart just such a map. It’s called the International HapMap Project, and beginning with several hundred blood samples collected from Nigeria, Japan, China, and the United States, it will use highly automated genomics tools to parse out the common haplotype patterns among a number of the world’s population groups

    the HapMap, together with a series of powerful genomic tools developed over the last several years, will make it possible to spell out in great detail the genetic differences between peoples from different parts of the world.

    Ultimately, all of genetics boils down to measuring the genetic variation in some population of people and comparing it to their characteristics and looking for correlations. That’s all genetics ever is.” And, adds Altshuler, the HapMap “is simply a tool to study genetic variation at unprecedented levels of accuracy and detail.”

    They also found that how people categorized themselves—whether they called themselves black or white or Asian—correlated closely with the genetic categories.

    Race, of course, already plays a huge role in how doctors diagnose and treat patients. Physicians are well acquainted with the idea that Caucasians with northern-European ancestry have higher rates of cystic fibrosis than Asians and blacks, while African Americans suffer from higher rates of hypertension and diabetes.

    Here is the official site.

  2. Yale’s ALFRED

    ALFRED contains allele frequency data on polymorphic loci for different human populations. As genetic polymorphisms, the common alleles at these loci must be considered normal variations. While it is a demonstrable fact that different populations have different frequencies of these alleles, most of the common alleles are present in most human populations. Many studies have shown that for any one genetic polymorphism most of the variations will occur among the individuals within each population because of the different genotypes. Only a small additional proportion of the global variation occurs as gene frequency differences among populations. Those differences, however, can illuminate evolutionary histories of human populations and may be especially relevant to design and conduct of biomedical research.

  3. The cover of scientific American (mirrored on our site)

    Does Race Exist? If races are defined as genetically discrete groups, no. But researchers can use some genetic information to group individuals into clusters with medical relevance

    scientists have collected data about the genetic constitution of populations around the world in an effort to probe the link between ancestry and patterns of disease

    about 10 percent of the variation distinguishes continental populations

    Some polymorphisms do occur in genes, however; these can contribute to individual variation in traits and to genetic diseases.

    As scientists have sequenced the human genome (the full set of nuclear DNA), they have also identified millions of polymorphisms. The distribution of these polymorphisms across populations reflects the history of those populations and the effects of natural selection.

    The frequency of the FY*O allele, which corresponds to the absence of Fy antigen on red blood cells, is at or near fixation in most sub-Saharan African populations but is very rare outside Africa

    By looking at the varying frequencies of these polymorphisms, they were able to distinguish five different groups of people whose ancestors were typically isolated by oceans, deserts or mountains: sub-Saharan Africans; Europeans and Asians west of the Himalayas; East Asians; inhabitants of New Guinea and Melanesia; and Native Americans. They were also able to identify subgroups within each region that usually corresponded with each member’s self-reported ethnicity.

    West Africans generally have polymorphism frequencies that can be distinguished from those of Europeans, Asians and Native Americans

    Several of the polymorphisms that differ in frequency from group to group have specific effects on health

    In these examples–and others like them–a polymorphism has a relatively large effect in a given disease

  4. Neil Risch’s Genome Biology article

    Neil Risch of Stanford University, a leader in the field of genetics, contends that race is helpful for understanding ethnic differences in disease and responses to disease.

    His position was prompted by an editorial last year in the New England Journal of Medicine asserting that “‘race’ is biologically meaningless,” and one in Nature Genetics warning of the “confusion and potential harmful effects of using ‘race’ as a variable in medical research.”

    1. In large part, the controversy stems from advances in DNA research streaming from the Human Genome Project — and trying to reconcile the fact that the pattern of DNA data differs among ethnic groups.
    2. All humans have the bulk of their genetic heritage in common and possess the same set of genes.
    3. But because of mutations — or changes in DNA — each gene comes in slightly different versions, and some of them are more common in one ethnic group than another.
    4. These genetic differences often have medical significance — since some occur among genes that affect susceptibility to disease and the response to drugs.
    5. For example, a mutation that causes hemochromatosis, a disorder of iron metabolism, is rare or absent among Indians and Chinese, but occurs in 7.5 percent of Swedes. Differences involving susceptibility to sickle cell anemia and lactose intolerance have been noted among ethnic groups and races.

Risch points out that many studies have shown that these differences cluster into five major groups, which are simply the world’s major continental areas and the people who once bred in them in isolation — sub-Saharan Africans; Caucasians, including people from Europe, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East; Asians; Pacific Islanders and native Americans

  • Cavalli Sforza’s Geography of Human Genes

    These studies were soon extended to other blood-group systems, and a body of data began to accumulate showing that different human populations have different proportions of blood groups. However, the first glimpse of the staggering magnitude of genetic variation came later–beginning in the 1950s and coming to full development in the 1960s–when individual differences for proteins could be systematically studied. A protein is a large molecule made of a linear sequence of components called amino acids; different proteins vary considerably in their amino-acid composition and serve very different functions

  • Sally Satel’s NY Times op ed on the utility of race in medicine:

    Not surprisingly, many human genetic variations tend to cluster by racial groups — that is, by people whose ancestors came from a particular geographic region. Skin color itself is not what is at issue — it’s the evolutionary history indicated by skin color. In Africa, for example, the genetic variant for sickle cell anemia cropped up at some point in the gene pool and was passed on to descendants; as a result, the disease is more common among blacks than whites. Similarly, Caucasians are far more likely to carry the gene mutations that cause multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.

    Admittedly, race is a rough marker. A black American may have dark skin — but her genes may well be a complex mix of ancestors from West Africa, Europe and Asia. No serious scientist, in fact, believes that genetically pure populations exist. Yet an imprecise clue is better than no clue at all.

  • Point: whether you call them races or population groups, there is a pattern of genetic variation which correlates with geographic ancestry. Self-identification corresponds well to this underlying pattern of genetic variation. Skin color is only a noisy indicator of geographic ancestry; Indians and Mexicans may have similar skin colors, but they’ll have substantially different ancestries and allele frequencies – not to mention other morphological differences.

    The best way to think about races is as fuzzy clusters in a high dimensional marker-space. You can make this precise by downloading data sets from the aforementioned ALFRED (point 2 above) and plugging them into Matlab. Alternatively, you can look at Cavalli Sforza’s book (point 5 above) or the hapmap data.

    Upshot: geographically-correlated variation in human genetics is real. It has functional consequences. It has been implicated in all kinds of variation, both normal variation (e.g. in drug response) and disease-related. And we are spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours on mapping that variation more precisely than ever before.


    dsquared 11.11.03 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you. Now do you realise that this evidence utterly destroys your original argument? The genetic markers roughly correlate (unsurprisingly, and not as well as you’d think) to reported ethnicity. However, all the social and educational data correlates only to reported ethnicity, and not to the underlying genetic reality after all. For example, the well-known fact that black people of Caribbean descent perform better on standardised tests than black people of African descent in the USA, but worse in the UK. Or that mixed-race children with black skin underperform mixed-race children with white skin. Or indeed, that up until very recently, the Irish, Italians and Central Europeans (including central European Jews) did worse than other Europeans (“Irish” is still a reportable ethnicity on forms used by my local council). You’re left either with the argument that for some unknown reason the genetic marker for “intelligence” is inseparably bound for the one for skin colour, or no argument at all.


    Anonymous 11.11.03 at 10:24 pm


    I’m one who doesn’t think there are _significant_ differences in IQ due to race. However, I think a proponent of this view can argue that differences between geographically distinct members of the same race are not precluded. Blacks in the UK may very well perform better than their counterparts in the US because of social differences. The more pressing question is whether the plot that models geographic differences for a given racial group is to the left or right of a similar plot for another group. And if so, is the shift statistically significant?

    Also, I’m not a statistics person so I may be off here but if the following is true:

    1) Genetic markers correlate to reported ethnicity.

    2) Reported ethnicity correlates to educational data (I assume this data captures educational performance)

    Then doesn’t this imply that genetic markers correlate to educational data (albeit to a lesser degree if the correlations of 1 and/or 2 are weak)?


    Guessedworker 11.11.03 at 11:19 pm


    I’d go easy on that genetic marker for intelligence unless know something no genetics researcher in the world knows If so, publish – you’ll be world famous by lunchtime.

    godless is a pro, an American of sub-continental Indian extraction and a good blogger. You mess with politics. So do I. As I said in my previous comment, to which you took such exception, you and I are unlikely to be disturbed in our beliefs by inconvenient facts. That may change in due course because the weight of evidence from population genetics will only increase, and rather dramatically. But for now we must agree to disagree. If you can you manage that without recourse to PeeCee histrionics I’d be much obliged.

    If you prefer we can forget about that old IQ sore and discuss other aspects of human difference. Violent and sexual crime, maybe.


    razib 11.11.03 at 11:22 pm

    I hereby announce an informal editorial policy. Anyone making this statement or equivalent on Crooked Timber is, from hereforth and retrospectively, obliged to provide, within 24 hours, a rigorous genetic definition of what he (or she) means by a race, in context. Failure to do this will be punishable by being referred to as a “fucking idiot”, once, and as a “racist”, twice, by me, in bold italic type.

    if you take “rigorous” to the reductio ad absurdum, you will be question the idea of “species” you know….


    razib 11.11.03 at 11:22 pm

    I hereby announce an informal editorial policy. Anyone making this statement or equivalent on Crooked Timber is, from hereforth and retrospectively, obliged to provide, within 24 hours, a rigorous genetic definition of what he (or she) means by a race, in context. Failure to do this will be punishable by being referred to as a “fucking idiot”, once, and as a “racist”, twice, by me, in bold italic type.

    if you take “rigorous” to the reductio ad absurdum, you will be questioning the idea of “species” you know….


    dsquared 11.14.03 at 6:09 pm

    Then doesn’t this imply that genetic markers correlate to educational data (albeit to a lesser degree if the correlations of 1 and/or 2 are weak)?

    Quite aside from the general issues, the answer is no; one can construct a number of issues where this doesn’t follow

    Comments on this entry are closed.