Pew Shows the AFQT Matters

September 16th, 2011 at 3:05 pm | 19 Comments |

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One of the notable findings from Pew’s new survey on economic mobility was that there is one test which does a very good of job of predicting economic mobility. That test is the military’s AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test).

The AFQT is the exam the military uses to judge the mental aptitude of its applicants and was administered to the survey group of the Pew study. Erin Currier of the Pew Economic Mobility Project told FrumForum about the predictive power of the test:

This data shows that AFQT scores alone are more important in explaining the black-white gap in downward mobility among men then a host of other personal and background factors. The scores could be soo important that they explain the entire gap.

As for the policy implications, Currier, in her own words said that, “What’s still left to understand though is what this really means, and what AFQT is really representative of.”

Currier suggested that the test scores could be an indicator of school quality, infant poverty, and childhood nutrition among other possibilities. “It’s very difficult to disentangle what is going on in AFQT” she explained, stating that there is a “huge” gap in the social science research on the topic.

Of course the idea that the AFQT measures something that is highly predictive of a person’s lot in life is not exactly new. Heated discussions about what the AFQT is measuring have been occurring for decades. (Certainly since the publication of The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein.)

The Pew study’s confirmation that the AFQT is highly predictive should encourage a more thorough and frank discussion of what these scores reveal–and what changes in a person’s upbringing and environment could lead to higher scores.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Carney

    The AFQT is heavily g loaded. It’s a close proxy for IQ. IQ tests are taboo so the armed forces simply use the the AFQT, which is basically the same thing. IQ is closely correlated with a wide variety of life outcomes.

  • Nomad13

    I disagree that the AFQT is similar to an IQ test. I would think it’s closest cousin is the SAT. It weighs against people who haven’t had experience working with cars, who didn’t have good teachers/experience with geometry, foreign languages, English, that sort of thing. I’ve taken the test twice and never felt that it measured how smart I was as much as how educated.

    But yes, I otherwise agree that IQ correlates to a wide variety of life outcomes. Not so much in the military, but in the world outside of it.

    • Carney

      The SAT is also heavily g loaded, although less so than in the past as a result of political pressure to achieve the impossible task of, in effect, closing the white-black IQ gap.

  • Nomad13

    Thanks Carney for reminding me that racism is still alive and kicking. But at least you can use the internet, so that’s a plus for you. No, please don’t bother to respond. You don’t have anything worthwhile to say.

    • ZombieTory

      Nomad, that’s out of line.

      The black-white IQ gap is not racist. It’s a real, measurable thing and is the basis for this entire article. Like, apparently, the AFQT whites tend to consistently score higher on IQ tests than blacks. The reason behind this has been a mystery for years. Like the article mentions socio-economic status, childhood nutrition and similar fators have been postulated as some of the causes.

      What Carney wrote is not racist.

      • JoeWalton

        Zombie Tory, read more carefully.

        Carney didn’t just write that the black-white IQ gap exists, he wrote that it would be “impossible” to close.

        I took the word “impossible” to mean that no conceivable change in society or culture could close the gap, meaning that it is inherent or biologically based.

        With our present state of knowledge, there is no way we can know whether or not such an assertion is true. There is no way Carney could know what he so confidently claims is so.

        The dominant white culture has broadcast the message “Black people are dumb” for a long time. This message has been internalized by succeeding generations of black children, and has formed part of the obstacle they’ve had to struggle against – a significant barrier to their success.

        Why would Carney – in the absence of sure knowledge – continue this policy? Is it racist to claim without sure knowledge that one ethnic group is biologically less intelligent than another? You decide. I can for sure say that this is a truly despicable statement, unfounded and mean-spirited. I’m not sure such statements should be allowed to be published on FF.

        PS. Maybe I should read more carefully too! It is possible that Carney only meant that the gap is impossible to close instantly, at this point in time. This is surely true, because societal and cultural changes take time. If this was his meaning, then I withdraw my criticism and apologize to Carney. I certainly hope this interpretation is the true one.

        • Carney

          JoeWalton, the evidence of a genetic basis for a large portion of the racial gap in average IQ scores is overwhelming to the point of irrefutability for all practical purposes.

          That does not mean that there are not high-IQ blacks and low IQ whites; of course there are.

          And that does not mean that other factors do not also contribute to the gap. But it does mean that even in ideal circumstances (precisely equal circumstances of life beginning pre-natally), the gap will never go away.

          This is no more “bigoted” than to say that men are on average more violent than women. Yes yes yes yes yes there are peaceful men and violent women; there is some degree of social construction encouraging more violence from men than from women, etc. But it is also true that a large portion of the violence gap will never go away to matter what, and genes are the reason.

          Whether you accept reality or retreat into comforting myths and “how dare you” high dudgeon is up to you.

        • rbottoms


          Nigger, nigger, nigger.


        • Nomad13

          You were saying Zombie?

        • Smargalicious

          Carney, you are correct. However, whenever it’s said in a public forum, the fatherless welfare garbage and their sympathizers will play the race card.

          Thus, bottomly comes along, the perpetual victim. The “bad white man owe me for slavery” detritus.

          Best to just torture him with the truth to drive him mad.

  • Southern Populist


    FF censoring for content now? That would be break with past policy, as far as I know.

    I noticed that my admittedly snarky comment in this article has been pulled. It has never happened in 14 months of reading FF.

    I’m just curious if it was your call, or did a forum member complain to an admin?

    There are far, far worse comments posted here every day about evangelical Christians, conservatives, and Tea Party members.

    - DSP

  • Steve D

    First, the debate over whether IQ is hereditary or not is pointless, because the average IQ of a group tells us nothing about individuals. Designing policies based on group IQ is like claiming no Americans are malnourished because the average American is overweight, or that whites play better basketball because whites are half an inch taller, on average, than blacks. Granting for a moment the doubtful assumption that there is a single measure of intelligence, every black with an IQ of 110 is smarter than every white with an IQ of 100. Somehow backers of the Bell Curve never notice that.

    So what does the AFQT measure? The practice exams I looked at have questions that are a mix of academic and practical, and require a bit of care in reading. My guess is that people who score well on it have a good balance of theoretical and practical knowledge, and have retained knowledge well from school, either because of good memories, wide interests, or innate curiosity (all traits that are likely to reap benefits). The difficulty of defining just what the AFQT measures is probably an indication that it integrates a broad range of traits that make up intelligence. One thing that does seem clear is that people who have poor basic skills, lack of mental discipline, or negative attitudes toward learning will not do well on the test.

  • nhthinker

    Denying the hereditary component of intelligence is the left’s equivalent to the denial of evolution.

    It makes me laugh at the irony and hypocrisy of the left nuts.

    Every species on Earth is studied for the nuances of intelligence of sub-groups, save one. And it is the dogmatists preventing it.
    They view that it must be taken as an axiom that the average intelligence of any ethnic/racial group of humans must have exactly equivalent distribution of intelligence.

    As stated before, there are many African Americans and members of every other ethnic group that qualify for American Mensa- I’ve met many.

    It’s viewed by liberals that if an average difference in success occurs, that it must only be prejudice that produced the difference.

    No matter what a person’s inborn intelligence, environment has a an very dramatic impact on whether they reach their full potential or not.

  • Nomad13

    Right…thanks for that.

    By the way, going back to the AFQT.

    Scoring well on the AFQT (which takes a large part of the score from math skills and reading comprehension) takes a decent high school education.

    Scoring well on the test opens up better jobs in the military. These jobs have fairly marketable skills in the outside world. If I was in some sort of electronics field, when I got out I have more options available to me than if I was in combat arms.

    Furthermore, going to OCS requires (beyond college credits) a minimum GT score that is a bit higher than becoming a truck driver (not denigrating truck drivers, I love them doing it because I wouldn’t). OCS itself isn’t fairly difficult, at least in the Army. A individual from the lower class who did well on the Asvab and availed themselves of the myriad forms of higher education available to soldiers, who then goes to OCS will then find themselves smack dab in middle class. Keeping on that route until retirement will put them on the high end of middle class, and make it absurdly easy to find a six-figure job upon retirement.

    There…do I get some grant money for that? I did the research and everything myself.

  • Russnet

    What the hell does it matter? It doesn’t. Frankly I could find a census taker who tells me that catholics eat more pinto beans than flava beans with their liver and chianti, but really, so what? What is social mobility? Our problem is population in general, not perceptions of how smart or how dumb certain races are.

  • rbottoms

    I aced the ASVAB or whatever it was called back then and got a tech MOS in the Signal Corps. Life is better in the communications & technology end of the military, no surprise, and it paved the way for working in software some 20 years after getting out.

    The Army is a route to the Middle Class, though in the era of two hot wars a bit more dangerous path to a better life if you’re starting out poor. Next time someone whines about lack of jobs opportunities after college, there’s always OCS.

    The biggest boost to your long term prospects the Army can give you is discipline, education, and a solid work ethic. It’s a job you can’t just walk away from.

    Making it through your first enlistment is hard but it can be a springboard to whatever life you want.

    • Smargalicious

      I’m surprised that you didn’t blame the white devils for a bad experience.

      However, the military is no longer an honorable profession, nor safe for Christian youth to join.

      • Steve D

        Damn straight! Why, you never used to see Playboy or Penthouse around the barracks when I was in!