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October 21, 2003

Brown tiger

This article about India's economic progress is the most e-mailed over at The New York Times website right now. India has a mean IQ of about 80. It is, broadly speaking, a very under-developed nation. It will be interesting to see if the mean IQ increases in value as the educational qualifications begin to be driven upward by the increased societal affluence (Flynn Effect).

Posted by razib at 12:24 AM

Doesn't the caste system mean that the IQ distribution - in spite of the mean of 80, is highly skewed, with a fat tail on the upside?

Posted by: Dick Thompson at October 21, 2003 08:09 AM

Please educate me on this. My experience with Indians in grad school makes the 'average 80 IQ' story ring false, unlike my experience with other lower IQ groups (I understand these are averages and distributions overlap...). Are most Indian expats of a different ethnicity or subgrouping that dominates the mean?

Posted by: eric f at October 21, 2003 09:03 AM

Most of the Indians you've come across will come from the higher IQ group, which are often higher caste as well. Nehru, himself a Brahmin from Kashmir, put more emphasis on graduate education for fellow upper-casters like himself, rather than focus on basic education, which would have substantially benefited the lower caste groups. he held the widely held beliefe that India would progress much more rapidly with such people at the helm. Of course, that turned out to be one of Nehru's many mistakes.

On the other hand, if India were physically situated where Mexico is - you'd probably see plenty of lower caste gardeners, maids, and busboys.

There is some correlation between caste and complexion, but mostly among Northern Indians. In the South, you can come across a dark complexioned Brahmin who can do complex equations on the back of an envelope. That's the stereotype, anyway.

Posted by: KXB at October 21, 2003 11:08 AM

No magic here. Malaysia has an average IQ of 87 and per capita GDP close to $9000 per year.

Posted by: Peter Phillips at October 21, 2003 12:38 PM

Malaysia is also 30% Chinese.

Irrelevant, but interesting link: http://www.asianwhite.org

Posted by: Sen at October 21, 2003 12:54 PM

"Not really the best example."

Its a good example. The Chinese are only 30 percent of the population.

My point is that India might have an average IQ of 80 but it also has 1 Billion people. So if say 20 percent had average IQs of 90/95, youre still talking of a population the size of Russia. Thats not a small matter.

Also, India is so poor that it has miles to go before it hits saturation point.

None of this economic growth implies that India would simply reach the levels of development achieved by Western Europe/North America/Japan eventually. I dont see the contradiction here.

Posted by: Peter Phillips at October 21, 2003 01:41 PM

the difference between the mean IQ and the proportion of the population with and IQ>K, and it's effect on national GDP, is addressed in one of Le Griffe's riffs:



Posted by: eric f at October 21, 2003 03:01 PM

So if the average IQ is 80, but there are a billion people, the total IQ is 80 billion. That equals a country the size of the US with an average IQ of about 300.


Posted by: Zizka at October 22, 2003 12:07 AM

The source given for India's mean IQ is Richard Lynn's table. Lynn is notoriously selective in his use of stats - see e.g. Nick Mackintosh's demolition of Lynn's claims on sex differences in IQ. (Lynn is about the only person in the history of psychometrics to claim a substantial male superiority in IQ.) I wouldn't take the figure of 80 for India as reliable, still less as indicating a genetic causation.

Posted by: David B at October 22, 2003 03:20 AM


Yeah thats a Joke. Just as the success of Indians settled overseas is also a "Joke".

Posted by: Peter Phillips at October 22, 2003 11:20 AM

Other, smaller, "brown" Asian countries seem to be outperforming India - in terms of the middle-class/upper-class standard of living, that is.

I was in India last month. Madras/Chennai. Awful place. They've filled the town with american interstate-style flyovers and overpasses and other such feats of 20th century civil engineering. Unfortunately the majority of the vehicles using such constructs are bullock carts, "autos", and bicycles. What's worse are the water problems that everyone's having now (goes from August to October I'm told) - not even the wealthy Brahmin households were immune from it. And hygiene is such a big concern for *everyone* - including the locals who live there. Certain restaurants to be avoided, etc. Advising people to stick to vegetarian when you eat out in case "something's wrong with the meat".

On the other hand, Colombo, just an hour away by plane, has almost completed its imitation of Singapore. There are supermarkets and malls, Pizza Huts and HSBC's, on every corner. The household I was staying at was getting DSL installed the next week - 2 megabit downstream too, a whole 512kbits faster than me in Tronno! While in Madras the "Maruti" reined supreme despite most major global automakers marketing at least one car in India, in Colombo the Corolla is the vehicle of choice. Indeed, you could also find Volvos, Beemers, even a MINI Cooper (!). There were also some Nissan models you don't find in North America - I suspect those are the ones marketed under the Infiniti label over here. I don't know where all the wealth is coming from, but its certainly getting there.

The difference between both towns, both of them large metros, was astounding to me. Statistically, however, it seems that Sri Lanka is just a poor Asian country known primarily for that oft-mentioned terrorist/separatist problem (the media reports make it sound worse than Nepal) while India seems like the place to be these days! Dost mine eyes decieveth me?

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at October 22, 2003 07:34 PM

I believed I posted several months ago on Sri Lanka's potential to become the first Brown Lion (Lion being the symbol on its flag, although ironically the Tamil separatists there call themselves the "Tigers" ;-)) All the vital stats are there: Extremely Low fertility rate (it's at 1.9 now - below replacement level!) + high literacy rate + educated populace + decent infrastructure + being blessed with excellent geography and location. They don't have the crippling poverty or overpopulation of India. If they get this separatist mess worked out, Sri Lanka *could* take-off as a local economic powerhouse. A Mauritius 18 times over.

Anyway I happened to catch the film "Boys" this past weekend (the South Indian equivalent of American Pie?) and was floored by the level of Americanization over the past 10 years in South India/Madras. Sleek modern shopping malls, teenage girls in short tight skirts, Matrix style camerawork in one musical, a live 3-D animated Pixar-style character in another, the confluence of English and Tamil in everyday speech, adoption of Western forms of dress and conduct... very startling. Watch an Indian film from 10 years past and today and you'll see a remarkable contrast (progression?). We all have Narasimha Rao to thank or it. :-)

Back to the Sri Lanka/Singapore contrast, indeed - the cruellest irony of all is that Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew, upon visiting democratic and newly independent Ceylon in 1964, said that he hoped that his nation would one day become like Ceylon. Today, Chief Minister Lee remarks "It is sad that the country whose ancient name Serendip has given the English language the word "serendipity" is now the epitome of conflict, pain, sorrow and hopelessness".

Posted by: Sen at October 22, 2003 11:10 PM


re: "Boys"

Although I have not seen it, I have heard of whats being said about it. Basically the "religious right" of South India is up in arms over it, which is to be expected. (Gujarats acted much the same way over canadian Deepa Mehta's film "Fire" several years back). Fortunately south indian stuck-up religious types are a bit less violent than their north indian counterparts so we haven't seen any theatres get burned - yet. As for the movie itself, I think it is giving outsiders the wrong impression of what life is like in *THAT* part of India. While I was driving around (rather, being driven around) Madras I did not see any women/girls in miniskirts. Although when I was in some of the more posh districts I did see girls walking around in jeans (!). Still, even if the film is complete bollocks (the premise sounds that way) I suppose its good -- for *them*, since its obvious the "young 'uns" are more interested in this sort of thing.

As a a sidenote, the composer for that film is one of the chief musical directors for the new Lord of the Rings musical, see:


Posted by: Johnny Rotten at October 23, 2003 12:04 AM

I don't know how Lynn came up with 82 as the mean IQ of India, but there have been other studies that show it as much higher. I think basically he averaged them together and several low outlyers brought the average down. That's also how he arrived at 92 for Ireland. After spending several years in Britain, though, Indian children's mean IQs converge with British children. This is not due to selective migration, because on arrival in Britain their IQs are a good standard deviation below white children's.

Several of Carleton Coon's books are good sources for the debate about Brahmins and other castes. There are ways of determining the degree of cold adaptation of various peoples (e.g. taster tests, breadth of nostrils, fingerprint swirls, etc.), and they fairly categorically indicate that higher caste people are largely the descendants of recent (last several thousand years) migrants from Europe and northern Asia.

Another good source is if you do a search for 'hypergamy' on the GNXP site. There was a really good article recently on how this practice differentiated caste IQs.

The analogy was not made, but I think the same thing could be said about the European landed gentries who for centuries have been taking in infusions of high IQ blood by intermarrying with pleb upstart merchants, industrialists, financiers, etc.

Posted by: Nigel at October 23, 2003 01:36 AM