chinese cleaners smarter than western professionals

here’s the latest re. the most recent pisa test results (various news outlets are reporting that the below also applies to the u.s. and canada – check google news for pisa+oecd):

“China’s poorest beat our best pupils”

“Children of factory workers and cleaners in Far East achieve better exam results than offspring of British lawyers and doctors, says OECD.

“British schoolchildren are lagging so far behind their peers in the Far East that even pupils from wealthy backgrounds are now performing worse in exams than the poorest students in China, an international study shows.

“The children of factory workers and cleaners in parts of the Far East are more than a year ahead of the offspring of British doctors and lawyers, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development….

“As part of the study, children were asked to name their parents’ occupation to determine its effect on pupil performance. Across the world, children whose parents work in professional careers generally outperform those in elementary jobs such as caterers, cleaners, factory workers and labourers.

“The study, involving more than 500,000 pupils worldwide, found children of elementary workers in many Far Eastern nations outperformed the sons and daughters of professional British children.

“The children of UK professionals scored an average of 526 points in maths. But this was overshadowed by an average score of 656 registered by the children of professionals in Shanghai-China and 569 among children of the country’s elementary workers. The children of parents in unskilled jobs in the UK scored an average of 461, the equivalent of two and a half years behind.

“Elementary workers’ children in Hong Kong (542), South Korea (538) and Singapore (534), also outperformed more affluent British peers. In Japan, Vietnam, Liechtenstein, Japan and China-Taipei, relatively poor children were only marginally behind the wealthiest British pupils.

“The report said: ‘In the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest-paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries — nor do they perform as we as the children in Shanghai-China and Singapore whose parents work in manual occupations….'”

no idea if any of these results were broken down by race, ethnicity, etc.

and a related story from a while back:

“Report: Chinese Third-Graders Falling Behind U.S. High School Students in Math, Science”

“According to an alarming new report published Wednesday by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, third-graders in China are beginning to lag behind U.S. high school students in math and science.

“The study, based on exam scores from thousands of students in 63 participating countries, confirmed that in mathematical and scientific literacy, American students from the ages of 14 to 18 have now actually pulled slightly ahead of their 8-year-old Chinese counterparts.

“‘This is certainly a wake-up call for China,’ said Dr. Michael Fornasier, an IEA senior fellow and coauthor of the report. ‘The test results unfortunately indicate that education standards in China have slipped to the extent that pre-teens are struggling to rank among even the average American high school student….'”


(note: comments do not require an email. or an average pisa score above ca. 450.)


  1. Of course, there’s probably some regression to the mean involved here, but it’s still striking.


  2. As a father with a child in the 5th grade my anecdotal experience is that math is an afterthought and when it is taught, its in a very slovenly disjointed fashion. Far more time is spent teaching the social sciences. In point of fact much more effort has been spent this year teaching about Amerindian, black experiences and the villain Columbus than math. Of course they are using the State of Georgia common core curriculum.


  3. I’d imagine many of those Chinese parents didn’t have the opportunity to become doctors or anything more than cleaners. Still, China’s intellectual capital continues to showcase impressive results.

    Having read how Marco Polo was astounded by what he observed in China, I also find myself wondering how wondrous China will be when it realizes it’s potential. Hopefully it will lead to a more prosperous and peaceful world.


  4. A lot of this probably has to do with better preparation. Not just Asia, but continental Europe is also known for more rigorous math education. American math education is pretty lax and doesn’t get very serious until high school. Whereas in many other countries, students learn in elementary and junior high what only gets seriously covered in high school in America.

    Also, professionals in the US and the UK tend to be in law, politics, business, or finance. Their focus is more on verbal and social skills, rather than math, and this probably filters down to what gets emphasized in education and child rearing.


  5. Related:

    Welcome Readers from Portugal! | JayMan’s Blog

    Low IQ is not a result of poverty; poverty is generally a result of low IQ, for the reasons described above. You can see that poverty isn’t a cause of low IQ by looking at poor but high-IQ countries…

    As we can see, average IQ is high all across China, despite the fact that the interior sections of the country are highly impoverished, with many just now developing. And indeed, the horrendous poverty across many parts of China doesn’t stop them from being incredibly inventive, giving us stuff like these…

    You don’t see stuff like this in say, Saudi Arabia … a country with incredible wealth, thanks to its abundant oil reserves, and a high GDP “per capita” – but which performs poorly on scholastic tests. Despite its wealth, it has an average IQ of about 80

    See more there.


  6. Re Chinese cleaners not having the ability to become anything else, social mobility is about the same in China as other nations as per Greg Clarke’s exhaustive surveys. Differences between societies are apparently more about maximum and minimum wealth than how much a person can move, which makes a lot of the meritocratic stuff where we have to give talented “superstars” ever larger financial incentives and power or else they won’t bother moving social class or taking positions of responsibility a bit of a nonsense.

    Western doctors and lawyers tend to hit around 108-111 average. They’re not that distinguished in terms of IQ only, also personality traits matter for why they are where they are (e.g. they’re good at coping with fairly demanding psychologically environments, they’re probably relatively creative, assertive, have at least some genuine intellectual interest, etc.). Still you’d expect their kids after regression to be around where the Chinese average would be, so it would be surprising for the lower SES the Chinese to be match them in terms of pure smarts (assuming Chinese hit around 106, which seems about the realistic high band of where they are, and their lower SES lag by about 10 points).

    Maths is a relatively culturally loaded subject compared to say language skills or the kind of basic talents measured on IQ tests, there is a big element where you have to care enough to immerse yourself in thinking about maths (besides specific spatial skills which help), where pretty much anyone halfway normal thinks in language basically all the time.

    It’s a lot more like a comparison of history ability between countries than it is comparison on a basic vocab test (non vocab stuff isn’t always more culture fair surprisingly, see David Lohman on this). People often seem to tend to think the opposite though, that maths is a “pure” measure of neurological efficacy unfiltered by culture and personality biases – there seems like an assumption that what is pure is demanding and useful (like maths and physics), but that’s a bit of an unexamined assumption.

    SDs and distribution shapes would also be interesting for some of this stuff. In individualistic cultures, people tend embrace positivity about themselves and pursue their strengths and ignore their weaknesses while in collectivistic cultures it can be more about not falling behind the middle in anything. This could effect upper limits.


  7. Matt: “Re Chinese cleaners not having the ability to become anything else, social mobility is about the same in China as other nations as per Greg Clarke’s exhaustive surveys.”

    Here’s a simpler and more accurate explanation. It has to do with the fact they’re a 3rd world country. There’s not much social mobility when you’re raised in a 3rd world country.

    Only a lucky few had the opportunity to become doctors. Have you been to China? It’s still a shithole today. These parents were raised with medium per capita incomes of $1000/year or less. They had no books, no internet, and no higher education. They lived in rural villages. The migration into their cities is a recent phenomenon.

    I think we should discuss the mobility of their entire population (1.3billion) rather than their lucky top 10% to 20% (~250million).

    Not everything is IQ. Be more imaginative.


  8. I seem to recall Steve Sailer had the PISA results broken by country, but also, for the US, by ethnicity. I can’t remember how he got the data for the US. Predictably, Chinese in America were scoring pretty high, but not as high as China, and there was speculation over that. Along the lines that Shanghai students weren’t representative. In China, a rural migrant to a city cannot send his kids to school in that city (the kids usually remain at home in the rural area).


  9. Frau Katze:

    This is the racial breakdown I recall (Asian, White, Hispanic, Black) of Americans:

    Asian-Americans were pretty strong, placing only behind Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The former being the prize city of China, and the latter two are impeccably governed city states. They are consistently ranked in the top 2 by the Heritage Foundation for their economic freedom, which a sizeable gap to #3 Australia.

    So their good and free economic policy allows their IQs to flourish and grow their economy. Singapore (and Australia) especially has a good immigration policy, constantly bringing in new people with high IQs.

    Let’s remember that Asian-American is a pretty loose term. You can be from the Middle East, Pakistan, Indonesia, or Japan.

    It suggests that unless we recruit and convert some high IQ talent into Americans, we’re going to find ourselves slipping over time.


  10. @taylor – “Having read how Marco Polo was astounded by what he observed in China, I also find myself wondering how wondrous China will be when it realizes it’s potential.”

    they’ve obviously got the requisite number of iq points in china to be successful in many ways, but they do have some other hbd-related problems — corruption is a big one. low levels of trust, too.


  11. @taylor – “It suggests that unless we recruit and convert some high IQ talent into Americans, we’re going to find ourselves slipping over time.”

    remember: there’s more to hbd than just iq….


  12. that’s actually kinda disturbing. =/ i want smarter doctors!

    It’s all fine until they leave the saw in you…

    Let’s remember that Asian-American is a pretty loose term. You can be from the Middle East, Pakistan, Indonesia, or Japan.

    Asian Americans aren’t really often disaggregated on academic measures like PISA.

    Trying to estimate, this paper splits East Asians out from other Asian Americans and finds means 1138 East Asian, 1045 White, 997 Other Asian, 833.04 Black and 896 Hispanic. The maximum is 1600 and the SD should be 226 based on the US College Board’s published percentile ranks.

    Convert to IQs and you get 106 East Asian, 100 White, 97 Other Asian, 86 Black and 90 Hispanic. Seems about typical from IQ studies, but there are some asymmetries in the math and verbal scores that suggest East Asian Americans might have a elite migration effect being offset by language issues.

    (For the only reported data, Americans who reported their religion as Judaism (possibly a mixture of Ashkenazi Jews and those they’ve outbred with) had an SAT of 1161 vs White 1060 in 2002, translating to around Jewish 107 again.)

    Convert that to PISA, and the USA has a SD of 150 and a White mean of 506, so ((6/15)*150)+506= 566 should be around the East Asian American mark, which would be higher than the average of Taiwan, Korea and Japan (average 550, as their national IQs and verbal-spatial balance would suggest). But if East Asian Americans fit the general Asian SAT pattern of Math Sat 0.3 SD above their average, 612 would be the overall PISA math, which matches Shanghai perfectly (surprisingly).

    tldr East Asian Americans perhaps as a slightly elite subsample of East Asians, might actually match Shanghai…


  13. US/UK have spent the last 60 years closing the high-low IQ gap by dumbing down education.


  14. I’d like to posit the following explanation:

    1. Sinosphere people have much higher mathematical IQs than Whites
    2. However, *verbal* IQs generally correlate much better with GDPpc and in general are “what matters”

    Re 1:

    This has been shown numerous times, for example in math SAT scores (2017 mean: Asian 612 White 553), see also this chart:

    I’ve even had fun plotting data from Google Code Jam (programming competition focusing on algorithms/math) (#perennialRound2Squad anyone?), which shows a similar gap*:

    Re 2:

    However, Sinosphere people don’t score higher than Whites on tests measuring verbal intelligence, such as the reading&writing section of the SAT (2017 mean: Asian 569 White 565) and the LSAT (Law School Admission Test):

    How verbal, rather than general, IQ seems to be a better predictor of GDP is written about here:

    Thus British doctor and lawyers don’t have to worry about being replaced by children of Chinese cleaners anytime soon ;d

    Re *:

    I know this chart has a few mistakes in it, for example I should’ve made 4 distinct groups based on color, and chose the inclusion threshold based on the number of positive samples (number of people who advanced) rather than total samples (shhh I’m stupid I know), and I picked round 2 advancement rather than round 3 advancement where the difference is more stark

    The 2’026 Chinese were 4.5x (!) (United States: 3’740 contestants) and 17.0x (!!) (India: 6’251 contestants) times more likely to advance to round 2 and 6.2x (United States) and 31x (India) times more likely to advance to round 3. The gap is even larger for Japan-India (53x) and Russia-India (61x)

    Curiously, Russian (math) PISA scores *aren’t above-average*. Perhaps they’re skipping school to hack the American election :p, perhaps coding skill and (PISA) math skill are different somehow (…but aren’t Russians known for strong math skill?), perhaps the self-selection of Code Jam participants is different, perhaps it’s Russia’s child poverty rate of 58.3% (!!) in 2009 (compared to 3.4% in Finland and ~10% in most of the highly developed world) (but then why aren’t Slavic non-shock-therapy countries like Slovakia performing better on the PISA?) (also: Iran??)


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