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Planet Earth

WORDSUM & IQ & the correlation

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMay 4, 2010 10:08 PM

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Every time I use the WORDSUM variable from the GSS people will complain that a score on a 10-question vocabulary test is not a good measure of intelligence. The reality is that "good" is too imprecise a term. The correlation between adult IQ and WORDSUM = 0.71. The source for this number is a 1980 paper, The Enduring Effects of Education on Verbal Skills. I've reproduced the relevant table...

estimated correlation
estimated correlation

Obviously since the WORDSUM test was not given to those under 18 you can't calculate the correlation between childhood IQ and WORDSUM score. Additionally, I suspect since 1980 there's been a bit more cognitive stratification by education. I notice in the GSS sample that there are many older people, especially women, who have high WORDSUM scores but no college education. In the younger age cohorts this pattern is not as evident because if you are intelligent the probability is much higher that you'll obtain a university education.

A correlation of 0.71 is not mind-blowing, there's a significant difference between IQ and WORDSUM as they relate to each other linearly. But I think it's good enough to get a sense that WORDSUM is a serviceable substitute for a more rigorous measure of g in lieu of any alternatives, and not so clumsy a proxy so as to be useless. Though that call is up to you, and readers are free to disagree with the methodology of the model used to obtain this correlation. Additionally, I would point out that WORDSUM is a subset of the vocabulary subsection of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. WORDSUM is in effect a slice of an IQ test.

I am bookmarking this post so that in the future I can simply place a link in the comment threads in response to objections to WORDSUM.

Note: Thanks to Bryan Caplan for pointing me to this paper.

Citation: Lee M. Wolfle, Sociology of Education, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Apr., 1980), pp. 104-114

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