NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Testing for Racial Differences in the Mental Ability of Young Children

Roland G. Fryer, Steven D. Levitt

NBER Working Paper No. 12066
Issued in March 2006
NBER Program(s):   LS

On tests of intelligence, Blacks systematically score worse than Whites, whereas Asians frequently outperform Whites. Some have argued that genetic differences across races account for the gap. Using a newly available nationally representative data set that includes a test of mental function for children aged eight to twelve months, we find only minor racial differences in test outcomes (0.06 standard deviation units in the raw data) between Blacks and Whites that disappear with the inclusion of a limited set of controls. The only statistically significant racial difference is that Asian children score slightly worse than those of other races. To the extent that there are any genetically-driven racial differences in intelligence, these gaps must either emerge after the age of one, or operate along dimensions not captured by this early test of mental cognition.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12066

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