Thursday, March 09, 2006

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 (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.


Jackie said...

Funny - my sister and I both score high, both reached top levels of our careers (and the >100k) in our 30s and both waited until our 40s to have our 1 child.

Here are a couple of my ideas.....because emotionally we were less mature than the "typical" population, and intelligent enough to realize it? Or, because we were so focused on jobs and intellectual pursuits that our social skills and interfaces made it take much longer to find a compatible mate?

Interesting topic!

Getting down to business said...

I think it is more than high IQ (by this, I mean top 1%) people don't feel the same "need" to procreate in general that the rest of the population does - they feel they are "producing" enough as is, and often, more important "works" than a child.

My mother was a mathematician in a day where few females went to college let alone graduate school, and she never wanted children. Her social skills were quite adept and she found her mate when she was 21, so it had nothing to do with social skills or taking longer to find a compatible mate. She only had the first child to get her husband to stop bugging her about it (and this was after 7 years of marriage, though she was still only 29 at the time) and only had the second as the first child was cutting out baby pictures and asking "Where's mine?" when he was 4 and she feared he'd be psychologically traumatized not to have a sibling given how much he seemed to "need" to have one.

My own son is far more mature than most adults (not my own opinion alone - for example, his Defining Issues Test score, a test of moral reasoning, was that of a college educated adult at age 8, and his score on how mature he was in picking friends was higher at age 8 than my own score in my 30's) and stopped saying he wanted children back when he was around 5 or 6; though he is open to the idea, he just doesn't see it as a necessity, even with a father who sees his having children as such.

This isn't to say that the issues of social skills, immaturity, and problems finding a mate who is compatible (who can get your wit or follow your ideas when your ideas are complex and based on specialists sorts of knowledge) never are factors as I am sure there are plenty of cases where they are, but I think the bigger factor is just not feeling the same *need* to have offspring that most people feel.

Anonymous said...

I waited till age 30 to choose a mate, and age 35 for that single baby - I don't know "what level" of giftedness I would qualify for, but here's what slowed me down -
1) I was 6 when my twin brothers were born, and it was obvious that child rearing took a lot of maturity. In my perfectionist view, then, to do the job the way I'd want to do it, it would need LOTS of maturity.
2) Finding a partner who was a good fit values and IQ wise wasn't easy.
3) There was SO much of life to explore. And exploring it is so delicious! People who can do many things often have a problem choosing what to do. For me this was a "retardent" both in career and in personal lifestyle choice. In a sense, parenting has limited my ability to explore life broadly, but has opened up a whole new deep exploration of life right here within the family.
4)Sexism - As a female, you can have it all if you are willing and able to pay the big price tag. Sexism is definilty alive. Which doesn't mean to say that Men aren't also Oppressed by their gender role.

Sadie Baker said...

I see another problem here.

If the test they were using to measure talent was the SAT, how did they go about separating class from the mix?

If they failed to control for class, well, why should it come as a surprise to learn that upper and upper-middle class kids who attend private schools and are test-prepped to within an inch of their lives, later find themselves with cushy jobs in academia and the corporate world?

All this study tells us is that the economic elite looks out for itself. How many equally bright, yet disadvantaged kids are thrown to the wolves in the meantime?

jason smith said...

For those interested in related research by the same authors and their colleagues the following is an excellent site:

Although one could argue with this study regarding their conclusions about the role of intrinsic ability (vs other factors) in the measured outcomes, their studies in general stand out in following a large enough number of children through adulthood to make valid statistical conclusions. (although key caveat here: statistical correlation is not necessarily due to causality).

The papers and articles on the site are much more difficult than either the gushy feel good advocacy pablum (you go genius girl!) or the equally uninformed neo conservative doctrine (let the bottom 99% eat cake, they will all just be sweeping floors as adults anyway) that are often the lingua franca around here. You may not like what they conclude - not all endings are happy in the real world. But if you take the time they, and referenced articles, will provide you with a much better understanding of what we actually know and more importantly what we do not know about a range of issues of interest to the gifted advocacy community such the outcome benefits of grade advancement and enrichment programs, the predictive value of IQ type tests, and may other questions frequently discussed here.


Jackie said...

Jason: I do like reading your comments. I thought you might like this quote from Wikipedia...

" The better the citizenry as a whole are educated, the wider and more sensible public participation, debate and social mobility will be...Highly sophisticated √Člites are the easiest and least original thing a society can produce. The most difficult and the most valuable is a well-educated populace." -John Ralston Saul

Jason Smith said...

Hi Jackie

Thank you for the quote.

Actually I wrote some of my last post tongue and cheek (the bottom 99.9% should at least be taught basic skills) and I enjoy the discussions here because by and large they are well informed and lively. Laura is a die hard neocon bell curver, which is a view I believe the present tools for testing aptitude are not accurate enough to support or deny, but makes for interesting debates.

However I do seriously feel that it is worthwhile for anyone interested in the area to read the original research, or at least the distillations of this work by the investigators. Much of what I have read on gifted advocacy or education websites with notable exceptions (e.g. the Davidson Institute does post original articles) is based on isolated cases or hearsay at best. Often when original work is cited the main conclusions are distorted (this is also true in newspapers and even University press releases)

Fortunately in this field, as long as you accept the statistical analysis methods as a given, most of the research is readable by anyone with a good high school education and critical thinking abilities. The writers also try to put their conclusions in a form understandable by a wider group (they want to get in the newspaper too!).