Some Perspective on Italian IQ

July 15, 2013

A new paper tries to evaluate the evidence in the recent debate about Italian IQ. The author has a little too much faith in Richard Lynn and the validity of his data, but still challenges his simplistic genetic explanations for north-south disparities, and urges caution when interpreting correlations between IQ and other variables.

The present study was intended to provide perspective, albeit less than unequivocal, on the research of Lynn (2010) who reported higher IQs in the northern than southern Italian regions. He attributes this to northern Italians having a greater genetic similarity to middle Europeans and southern Italians to Mediterranean people. Higher regional IQ was associated with biological variables more characteristic of middle European than Mediterranean populations (cephalic index, eye color, hair color, multiple sclerosis rates, schizophrenia rates). It was maintained, however, that very confident and definitive inferences regarding genetic regional differences in IQ are not warranted. Social conceptualized variables also correlated significantly with IQ so as to suggest the importance of nutrition and economic developmental status more generally.


One should also bear in mind that the correlations are ecological correlations and have the limitations associated with such. Prince (1998) succinctly described three problems with ecological correlations. One problem, the "ecological fallacy," is that people who are high or low in one variable are not necessarily the same people who are high or low on the other variable. In the present study the people in a region who are high in cephalic index are not necessarily the same people who are high in IQ. The second problem is that a third variable may be responsible for the correlation between the other two. In the present study, temperature, precipitation, constituents of drinking water, constituents of soil, health, genetic predisposition to medical disorder, nutrition, and medical care are some of the variables that could conceivably influence the correlation of IQ with schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. The third problem is that cause and effect cannot be determined.

4. Discussion

It is apparent that regions that have at least some biological characteristics more common in middle European than Mediterranean populations (higher cephalic index, lighter eye color and hair, and higher rates of multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia) tend to have higher IQs. This could be viewed consistent with Lynn's (2010) assertion of a genetically based explanation of north-south IQ differences. Great caution, however, is urged regarding such inferences. Since these are ecological correlations, the persons high or low in these biological variables may not be the same persons in that region high or low in IQ. Because some characteristics are different does not mean that all characteristics are different. East Asians have different facial features than Europeans and Africans. These differences, however, may be only remotely related or not related at all to IQ differences. Also, there are notable exceptions to generalizations about IQ and coloration. Most East Asians and Jewish persons are darker than Scandinavians and yet have higher mean IQs. Furthermore, social variables could account, at least in part, for the north-south IQ differences. Nevertheless, examination and discussion of the biological variable findings are warranted.


The social correlations with IQ and latitude were also substantial and could be viewed as indicating social explanations of the north-south IQ differences. As reasoned above, the massive illiteracy of the south (and even in the north to a lesser extent) could not be explained mainly by genetically determined intelligence. The positive correlation between IQ and literacy suggests that the lower developmental stature of the southern region contributes to the lower IQ. Such an interpretation is also suggested by, as hypothesized, the negative correlation between IQ and percentage increase in stature and negative correlation between income and latitude. This correlation also shows that those regions with the greatest history of malnutrition have lower IQs. As pointed out by Lynn (1990), the secular increase in IQ and stature parallel each other and both seem to be a function of improved nutrition.

Donald I. Templer. "Biological correlates of northern-southern Italy differences in IQ". Intelligence, 2012.

Italians Are Getting Taller

June 14, 2013

Height is increasing throughout Europe because of improved living standards, but this is happening at a faster rate in the south (including Italy) where poverty and poor health were much worse, and people were shorter as a result.

This paper presents new evidence on the evolution of adult height in 10 European countries for cohorts born between 1950 and 1980 using the European Community Household Panel (ECHP), which collects height data from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Our findings show a gradual increase in adult height across all countries. However, countries from Southern Europe (Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) experienced greater gains in stature than those located in Northern Europe (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden).


Three main features of these data stand out. First, we find that heights in all countries increased during this period. Second, the average stature in the Northern European countries is higher than in the Southern ones for all the cohorts and for both males and females. Third, the intensity of such a growth is heterogeneous: Northern versus Southern differences are visible. For instance, looking at Table 1, we see that Finnish men born in the first half of the 50’s were 177.8 cm tall, while those born in the late 70’s achieved 178.7 cm. The less than 1 cm increase by Finnish males contrasts sharply with the growth experienced by Spanish males: from 171.3 cm to 176.1 cm, almost 5 cm. In Table 2, we note that there are also huge differences between the growth experienced by Italian and Spanish women, more than 5 cm, in comparison to that of Danish women, only 1.4 cm.

This pattern of higher growth rates for both males and females in the Southern European countries becomes more evident when considering Table 3, where annual growth rates between the 1950-55 and the 1976-80 cohorts are reported (0.10% for Southern countries, 0.05% for Northern countries, and the total mean growth is 0.07%). Also we can point out that height growth rates are almost equal for males and females according to this geographical classification. There does not seem to be a clear pattern in terms of gender across countries. Some countries have experienced higher absolute gains for women (Belgium, Finland, Italy, Spain and Sweden) whereas some others have experienced greater gains for men (Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland and Portugal).

Considering the evolution of heights separately for the Northern and Southern European countries (Figures 1 - 4) some generalizations are evident. First, for the Northern countries, the cohorts of Danish males are always the tallest: 180.3 cm at the beginning and 183.7 cm at the end of the period. Second, the reverse situation is shown by the Irish males, who are the shortest in the Northern Europe sample during the whole period, 174.9 cm for those born in 1950-1955 and 177.4 cm in 1976-1980. Similar qualitative results are found for females.

From the evidence in Figure 3 and Figure 4 we can conclude for the Southern European countries that Greeks are the tallest for both males and females and Portuguese are the shortest ones in both cases. Both countries show a similar evolution profile in the period under consideration. At contrast, Spanish males and females for the last cohorts are growing more significantly than those in the other Southern European countries.


Trying to measure wellbeing in a society using only one measure is a challenging task, if not an impossible one. Usually, economists consider Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita or Gross National Product (GNP) per capita as conventional measures of living standards. Consumption per capita is also used. However, the use of these indicators is not without its shortcomings. [...] Stature is a measure that can help us to circumvent these caveats, but even more important, stature is interesting in its own right: it is a useful summary measure of biological wellbeing, as emphasized by Komlos and Baur (2004). First, stature is a measure that incorporates or adjusts for individual nutritional needs (Steckel, 1995). Second, it also meets satisfactorily the criteria set forth by Morris (1979) for an international standard of physical quality of life. Third, stature is a welfare measure that satisfies the approach to the standard of living suggested by Sen (1987): functionings and capabilities should be balanced. Fourth, it generally correlates positively with many health outcomes throughout the life course, and in particular, it correlates negatively with mortality (Waaler, 1984; Barker et al. 1990). Hence, physical stature can be used as a proxy for health, which as any inherently multidimensional concept is difficult to measure.

Garcia and Quintana-Domeque. "The Evolution of Adult Height in Europe: A Brief Note". Econ Hum Biol, 2007.

Related: Height Gains in a Global Context

Pope Francis: Just Another Italian

March 18, 2013

The media is calling him the first "non-European" Pope in 1300 years and the first "Latin American" Pope ever, and Latinos and Hispanics in the U.S. are starting to identify with him as a fellow "minority" and "one of us". His name may be Jorge, he may speak Spanish, and he may have been born in South America, but his ancestry is 100% Italian and the country he's from isn't very representative of the region.

But the first Latin American pope also represents a cultural bridge between two worlds — the son of Italian immigrants in a country regarded by some as the New World colony Italy never had. For many Italians, his heritage makes him the next best thing to the return of an Italian pope.


It remains unclear whether even Latin Americans will respond with newfound energy to Bergoglio's ascension to the throne of St. Peter. Among many of its neighbors, Argentina is seen as a nation apart — a country that fancies itself more European than Latin American, with many likely to see the rise of an Italian Argentine as largely unrepresentative of the region as a whole.

"Argentina is so secular today, a more Eurocentric Latin country," said Joseph M. Palacios, a specialist in religion and society in Latin America at Georgetown University. "They are Catholic by culture but not by practice. Geopolitically it makes sense in terms of bridging Europe to Latin America or the Third World, but Argentines don't see themselves as being Third World."

Anthony Faiola. "Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, known for simplicity and conservatism". The Washington Post, March 13, 2013.

Pope Francis
Parents Regina Maria Sivori
and Mario Jose Bergoglio

Back: brother Alberto Horacio, Francis, brother Oscar Adrian, and sister Marta Regina.
Front: sister Maria Elena, mother, and father.