SMPY Kids at 35
Can early talent predict grown-up talent? It can, according to a new study from Vanderbilt on the kids in the ongoing Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. A press release on the study can be found at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/news/releases?id=25185. (sorry I am traveling in Arizona right now and don't have my html command cheat sheet with me to hotlink this!).
Basically, kids who scored above 700 on the SAT Math section or above 630 on the verbal section at age 12 were as likely as a control group of graduate students in top programs, who were first surveyed in their 20's, to be on tenure tracks at top 50 institutions or earn over $100,000 a year at age 35. Researchers compared the SMPY kids with the graduate students because these graduate students were identified as very bright as adults (by their admission to top math, science and engineering programs). The SMPY kids were identified as very bright before their teens. That both have similar outcomes on certain success measures indicates that talent searches, which find gifted kids by giving them out-of-level tests, can indeed identify talent. The prodigy-who-flames-out story is perhaps not as common as people think it is.
Of course, with studies like this there's always a certain problem with identifying what makes people successful. I'm not sure that being in a tenure track job, earning over $100,000 a year, earning a medical degree (another variable studied) or the other criteria are the sum total of success. But you have to measure something. So on these measures, the SMPY kids were successful.
But in one sense -- the Darwinian sense -- they were phenomenally unsuccessful. 60-70% of the SMPY kids (and the grad student cohort, interestingly) were childless at age 35. Only about 20-25% of the American population does not have children by that age.
In other words, America's brightest young people are far more likely to choose to have children late (and hence, likely only have one child) or not at all.
Why on earth is that? Do people think you can't go to graduate school and reproduce? Are SMPY kids more likely than others to think having children isn't a top priority? To me, exploring the reasons for this low rate of child bearing would be a far more interesting study than learning that SMPY kids earned doctorates at 50 times the rate of the rest of America.