NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Cognitive Ability, Wages, and Meritocracy

John Cawley, Karen Conneely, James Heckman, Edward Vytlacil

NBER Working Paper No. 5645
Issued in July 1996
NBER Program(s):   LS

This paper presents new evidence from the NLSY on the importance of meritocracy in American society. In it, we find that general intelligence, or g -- a measure of cognitive ability--is dominant in explaining test score variance. The weights assigned to tests by g are similar for all major demographic groups. These results support Spearman's theory of g. We also find that g and other measures of ability are not rewarded equally across race and gender, evidence against the view that the labor market is organized on meritocratic principles. Additional factors beyond g are required to explain wages and occupational choice. However, both blue collar and white collar wages are poorly predicted by g or even multiple measures of ability. Observed cognitive ability is only a minor predictor of social performance. White collar wages are more g loaded than blue collar wages. Many noncognitive factors determine blue collar wages.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5645

Published: Cawley, John, Karen Conneely, James Heckman, and Edward Vytlacil. "Cognitive Ability, Wages, and Meritocracy." In Intelligence, Genes, and Success: Scientists Respond to The Bell Curve, edited by Bernie Devlin, Stephen Fienberg, Daniel Resnick, and Kathryn Roeder. (Springer Verlag: New York), 1997.

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