I just received an email entitled "Why are Jews So Smart". You can read an article here.

I also found a similar article in New York Magazine.

Did Jewish intelligence evolve in tandem with Jewish diseases as a result of discrimination in the ghettos of medieval Europe? That’s the premise of a controversial new study that has some preening and others plotzing.

Are Jews Smarter?

Is this claim supported by scientific research?

  • 5
    i'm not sure about this.. but aren't Jews adepts to a religion more than a race? Like i can become Jew and that wont make me smarter right.
    – isJustMe
    Jun 22, 2012 at 20:41
  • 10
    @Rafael.IT: There's the Jewish race, and the Jewish religion. Presumably the article is talking about the race, not the religion. But I haven't read it in enough depth to be certain. If adherents to the religion are smarter, then that would be an interesting new proselytizing tool :)
    – Flimzy
    Jun 22, 2012 at 20:53
  • 10
    This question needs to be more specific. Smarter than who or what? Using what metric of intelligence? Is there an unbiased metric to compare? Are you asking if all Jews are smarter than everyone else, or if there is a disproportionate number of Jews among some group of smart people (like Nobel prize winners, supreme court justices, or contributors to SE)? Jun 23, 2012 at 4:14
  • 2
    @David, my reading: The claimed facts are that a certain subgroup of the population is disproportionately represented in some roles associated with intelligence. There are many possible explanations for this (including it not being true). One hypothesis been put forward is that innate intelligence is the cause. So, compared the general population, using any legitimate IQ test that is (as much as possible) not culturally based, is the distribution of the IQs of Ashkenazi Jews significantly higher in the top-quartile? (Higher mean or standard-deviation would also probably meet the criteria.)
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 25, 2012 at 3:31
  • 1
    It seems like all questions of intelligence are more often flawed because it is such a difficult trait to measure, which is a result of it being difficult to define. Jun 27, 2012 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: Maybe.

Maybe Ahkenazi Jews score somewhere between 0.3 and 1 SD higher on IQ tests or verbal IQ. The genetic explanation in the question (disease-conferring genes are also intelligence-boosting genes, there was no bottleneck, but directional selection) has come under criticism.

From your question it's unclear whether you want to know whether ethnic Jews are smarter for genetic reasons or simply smarter as a group. A commenter cites the article Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, which makes a more specific claim.

An article critical of the genetic explanation by Prof. Brian Ferguson at Rutgers provides a useful counterperspective. It didn't appear in a peer-reviewed journal, but it did receive peer review and the author simply tells us why the editor rejected it, so it probably gives a good perspective on the debate.

He also cites one of the original authors with a revision to their theory, which may or may not be a bit more plausible.

Taking all the information together, it is fair to say that most, though not all, studies give Ashkenazi descendants a higher IQ than non-Jewish whites. How much? Take your pick.

Contrast his quote of the criticised paper:

Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. They score 0.75 to 1.0 standard deviations above the general European average, corresponding to an IQ of 112-115 ... although a recent review concludes that the advantage is slightly less-only half a standard deviation (Cochran et al. 2006, 3)

His view (shortened): The "recent review" they mention conveys a very different impression from that forceful assertion (Lynn 2004).

It has often been asserted that Jews have a higher average level of intelligence than non-Jewish whites of European origin ... Despite these assertions, the purported high IQ of the Jews has never been systematically reviewed... Despite the widespread consensus on the high Jewish verbal ability, not all studies have shown that Jews have a higher verbal IQ than gentiles. Furthermore, virtually all the existing studies are unsatisfactory because the samples have been unrepresentative, very small or for other reasons (pgs. 201-202) ... There is only one study of the intelligence of American Jews in the last century which appears to be representative and had a reasonable sample size. This is Backman's (1972) analysis... The mean IQs of the Jew in relation to gentile white means of 100 and standard deviations of 15 were as follows: verbal knowledge (described as "a general factor, but primarily a measure of general information" ... )--107.8, English language 99.5; mathematics-1 09.7; visual reasoning ("a measure of reasoning with visual forms")-91.3; perceptual speed and accuracy - 102.2; memory (short term recall of verbal symbols)-95.1 (pg.203).

On exceptional ability (i.e. a fat tail at the upper end of the bell curve) he says:

NHAI also focuses on the high end of the curve, how many very, very gifted there are among Ashkenazim (Cochran et al. 2006, 661). In this they follow Patai (1977, 321-342) and others who tallied the disproportionate number of Jews winning Nobel Prizes. Cochran et al. add world chess champions, and winners of ACM Turing awards. This clear over-representation is cited frequently in print and internet discussions of NHAI, as clear demonstration of the power of Jewish genes. But these impressive totals provide no evidence in favor of the NHAI hypothesis. They would only support that conjecture if it were shown that a disproportionate number of those winners were heterozygote carriers of one of the supposed IQ-booster genes, as compared to the normal distribution of these alleles among the Ashkenazi.

  • 3
    I think a lot of these arguments aren't relevant as they argue against a genetic cause for probable higher IQs among Ashkenazim when culture could also be a factor. (Full Disclosure: this is coming from an Ashkenaz with a high IQ).
    – Publius
    Sep 23, 2012 at 10:19
  • 1
    The arguments are relevant to counter the notion that it needs to be genetic which is central to NHAI. Only the section that the advantage isn't as impressive as proposed in other places is relevant to a cultural explanation as well. I think a cultural explanation is far more parsimonious.
    – Ruben
    Sep 24, 2012 at 12:40
  • 2
    It's a spectacularly powerful cultural effect if it can make 0.2% of the world population yield 22% of Nobel laureates
    – Murphy
    Jun 26, 2019 at 11:39
  • 1
    Depends on who's awarding the Nobels, doesn't it?
    – rob
    Nov 19, 2019 at 8:59

TL:DR: Almost certainly. From Charles Murray, the leading social science researcher for IQ and intelligence. As you will see below, Jews' IQ is a standard deviation greater on average than other whites, and they are exceptionally over-represented at the higher end deviations. And for those that hold that IQ does not correlate to anything meaningful, the first paragraph gives a glimpse into the real world effects that correlate to IQ. To the question of disease, Murray offers a few explanations and theories, the science is unsettled. But to the science of whether the measurement of Jewish IQ reveal Jewish genius, that is settled. Jews are indeed smarter.

Disproportionate Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences continues to this day. My inventories end with 1950, but many other measures are available, of which the best known is the Nobel Prize. In the first half of the 20th century, despite pervasive and continuing social discrimination against Jews throughout the Western world, despite the retraction of legal rights, and despite the Holocaust, Jews won 14 percent of Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology. In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population. You do the math.

What accounts for this remarkable record? A full answer must call on many characteristics of Jewish culture, but intelligence has to be at the center of the answer. Jews have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested. (The widely repeated story that Jewish immigrants to this country in the early 20th century tested low on IQ is a canard.) Exactly how high has been difficult to pin down, because Jewish sub-samples in the available surveys are seldom perfectly representative. But it is currently accepted that the mean is somewhere in the range of 107 to 115, with 110 being a plausible compromise.

A group’s mean intelligence is important in explaining outcomes such as mean educational attainment or mean income. The key indicator for predicting exceptional accomplishment (like winning a Nobel Prize) is the incidence of exceptional intelligence. Consider an IQ score of 140 or higher, denoting the level of intelligence that can permit people to excel in fields like theoretical physics and pure mathematics. If the mean Jewish IQ is 110 and the standard deviation is 15, then the proportion of Jews with IQ’s of 140 or higher is somewhere around six times the proportion of everyone else.

The imbalance continues to increase for still higher IQ’s. New York City’s public-school system used to administer a pencil-and-paper IQ test to its entire school population. In 1954, a psychologist used those test results to identify all 28 children in the New York public-school system with measured IQ’s of 170 or higher. Of those 28, 24 were Jews.

Some are making ad hominem attacks against Charles Murray. Yes, he's controversial. His impact on Social Science however has been substantial. Contemporary Thinkers describe his thusly:

Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. One of America’s leading social scientists, Murray has made major intellectual contributions on a range of subjects including welfare, happiness, IQ, the American regulatory system, crime, and class. He has written twenty books and dozens of scholarly articles. His 1984 book, Losing Ground, helped inspire the movement for welfare reform in America. His 1994 book, The Bell Curve, co-written with the late Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein, was an international bestseller. His awards include the American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol Award and the Bradley Prize.

  • 7
    Once again, this isn't a leading social scientist. He is at best, controversial. At worst, widely derided'. This isn't a reflection of scientific consensus, but just one person's view.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 26, 2019 at 21:04
  • 3
    @Oddthinking to not characterize Murray as a leading social scientist is an incredibly ignorant thing to write.
    – user36356
    Jun 26, 2019 at 21:29
  • 7
    @Oddthinking - I have no idea who Murray is nor do I care about what he says. I just want to point out that your claim that some finding isn't a reflection of 'scientific consensus' has become just about meaningless in today's world. 'Scientific consensus' in just about every science other than the 'hard sciences' is nothing more than saying 'politically correct' consensus. There is almost no validity to any soft-science study any more thanks to political correctness.
    – Dunk
    Jun 26, 2019 at 22:19
  • 1
    "Scientific consensus' ... 'hard sciences' ... 'politically correct' consensus." This is an uninformed, and frankly embarrassing, position. If anything, the social sciences are more difficult and fraught than the so-called 'hard' sciences (I have degrees in both, thanks). Fortunately for anyone who isn't engaged in motivated reasoning, there are plenty of good, trivially-Google-able critiques (by actual scientists, even!) of Murray's work and white-supremacist motivations.
    – rob
    Nov 19, 2019 at 9:07
  • 1
    @user2647513 Then again, maybe Murray's conclusions are "socially unacceptable" because the quality of his work is atrocious. Until you assess it critically you won't be able to tell the difference and, if you believe that social science is "non-empirical" and "minimally quantitative" (wrong: what it is is complex and multi-dimensional), you probably lack the skill for that sort of analysis in the first place. In any case, Murray's failures begin prior to any of the pitfalls of social science -- the raw data and his imputations would get a failing grade in any first-year science course.
    – rob
    Nov 30, 2020 at 23:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .