Planet Earth

British class differences persisting down centuries?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJul 22, 2012 3:01 PM

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People with Norman names wealthier than other Britons:

Research shows that the descendants of people who in 1858 had "rich" surnames such as Percy and Glanville, indicating they were descended from the French nobility, are still substantially wealthier in 2011 than those with traditionally "poor" or artisanal surnames. Artisans are defined as skilled manual workers.

As Steve Sailer observes strict adherence to surnames on a mass scale post-dates the Norman invasion by centuries. So the headline is pretty sensational. But I went and read the original working paper, and there is no mention of Norman or French names! The author of the piece in The Telegraph is probably right (i.e., a casual reading of history will show that Norman names are enriched in the English elite), but this is clearly another case of one having to be careful of the details when it comes to British media. But the results in the paper are interesting enough. The biggest finding is that regression toward the mean is far less using this 200 year data set than might be extrapolated from modern 2 generation data sets. Another reason to be skeptical of economists waxing grandly on all they know from the little they know. Nevertheless, I do think that these sorts of studies are going to be interesting when they are synthesized with genetics. With very large data sets (i.e., thousands of whole genomes) and more powerful methods one might be able to see if the modern British elite (at least the portion with deep roots in the nation) does exhibit more similarity to the people across the English Channel than one might expect. This might sound crazy, but the India caste system seems to b stratified in terms of ancestry. The Genographic Project even asserts that caste predates the Indo-Aryans, which I suspect is true. HAP has illustrated quite clearly that there are differences between South Indian non-Brahmin high/middle castes and low castes.

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