Wednesday, 3 February 2016

50 Russian oblasts

The last time I walked around Red Square, many years ago, my companion Nick pointed out that there was a light Cessna plane on the cobbles surrounded by a temporary barrier. I was not interested in it. It was a glorious night, beautiful Russian women were promenading about, the Red Flag was flying in a breeze specially created for it by an air compressor hidden in the flagpole, the Border Guards were celebrating their national day by being amiably blind drunk, and I was looking forward to giving a talk at a conference the following day. The Cold War seemed to be coming to an end.

The next day international journalists accosted me the moment I left the hotel not, as usual, to get my wise perspectives on psychological matters, but to ask if I knew the name of the doctor attending the conference who had filmed the Cessna landing in Red Square. A German boy had eluded Russian air defences and brought his plane down in central Moscow. The unknown doctor had videod the landing, and eventually sold it to the media for a small sum. The immediate story was that the boy was trying to impress his girlfriend, but the later account was that he was making a gesture in favour of world peace. Whatever the cause, it allowed Gorbachev to fire a few incompetent military men.

Now there has been a landing of a different sort: The data for literacy, infant mortality, fertility and stature in the late nineteenth century are available for 50 provinces of European Russia. The percentages of the population that were literate in 1897 were calculated from the data of the Russian Imperial census carried out 28 January, 1897 a mere 119 years ago, or almost 5 generations back.

Regional differences in intelligence, infant mortality, stature and fertility in European Russia in the late nineteenth century. Andrei Grigoriev, Ekaterina Lapteva, Richard Lynn.  Intelligence 55 (2016) 34-37

Estonia and Livonia were (and probably still are) the bright (literate) provinces of Russia, no doubt something to do with having been Swedish dominions until 1710. They tower over the rest of Russia. On average, Estonians are said to have 49.5% of West European Hunter-Gatherer (WHG) ancestry, the highest percentage of any living population. Nearby Pskov, slightly to the East and 95% Russian, had the lowest literacy rates.

The Russian provinces differed significantly by geographical location. The positive correlations with latitude (r= .33, p<.05) and the negative correlation with longitude (r=−.43, p<.01) show that the rates of literacy were higher in the northand west than in the south and east. These trends were partly determined by the rates of literacy being highest in the north-western provinces of St. Petersburg and the three Baltic states of Estland, Livland and Kourland(correspondingapproximately but not precisely to contemporary Estonia and Latvia; Livland consisted of southern part of contemporary Estonia and eastern part of contemporary Latvia). Removing these four regions makes both correlations non-significant (.21 and −.23).




Literacy was strongly positively associated with stature. The more literate provinces had lower infant mortality, probably due to their higher wealth. They also had smaller families, but Lynn finds this does not correlate with stature, suggesting it is not a wealth effect but probably part of a general dysgenic trend at that time.

This is a very interesting data set and is part of a trend towards regional comparisons, showing that intelligence not only impacts individuals and countries, but also districts, states and provinces. This is a valuable contribution, given that such matters are routinely ignored in most travelogues and political discourses. It is also testimony to what can be achieved when one scholar, despite scarce resources and considerable opposition, makes links with psychologists across the world, and puts together the results for countries and regions so as assemble an archive of ability across the world.


  1. Remarkable yarn, but as expected they actually had no data for intelligence so their title is, to use a technical term, a lie.

    1. There are no data for re-gional intelligence in the nineteenth century and we have therefore adopted rates of literacy as a proxy for intelligence. This is justified on the grounds that a high correlation between literacy rates and intelli-gence have been reported in a number of studies. For example, a correlation of .861 between literacy rates for Italian regions in 1880 and early twenty-first century IQs has been reported by Lynn (2010); a correlation of .83 between literacy rates for Spanish regions in the earlytwenty-first century has been reported byLynn (2010);(Lynn, 2012);and a correlation of 0.56 between literacy rates and IQs for the states and union territories of India in 2011 has been reported byLynn andYadav (2015). There is additional support for using literacy in the nine-teenth century as a proxy for intelligence in the results of a study byGrigoriev, Lapteva and Ushakov (Григорьев,Лаптева,Ушаков, 2015)showing a correlation of .58 between literacy rates of the peasant pop-ulations of the districts (uezds) of the Moscow province in 1883 andthe results of the Unified State Exam and State Certification on RussianLanguage in the districts of the contemporary Moscow oblast.

    2. doc, that's a lengthy way of agreeing that they did not have intelligence measurements. By all means replace "lie" by "untruth", but it remains the case that the title of the paper gives a false representation of its contents.

  2. The methodology is a bit problematic. I've read a bit about Russian state literacy programs in the 19th century and they tended to spread out from the central European provinces because that was most cost effective, hence the low literacy rates of e.g. Siberia in Lynn's data set. However, there is no particular evidence that Siberian Russians are any duller than average Russians, if anything they are somewhat overrepresented in terms of intellectual achievement such as the share of students who do well enough to qualify for big government stipends ( Only the Center and North-West are higher, but that is presumably because of the cognitive clustering effect around Moscow and to a lesser extent, Saint-Petersburg.

    The data Gergiev and Lynn gathered is certainly useful, but I do tend to agree with the above commentators/critics that using "intelligence" in the title when it is based on nothing more than correlations seen in other countries is overreach.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I was hoping you would have a look at this paper. I would like to understand what caused the correlations in Italy, Spain and India.

  3. Update - my initial skepticism was unfounded, the correlation between 19th century Russian literacy rates and modern average IQ is actually surprisingly good.