Verbal Ability and Socioeconomic Success: A Trend Analysis

Hauser, Robert, and Min-Hsiung Huang
Working paper no. 1997-13


Along with other recent analyses of American social structure, Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve offers several hypotheses about the increasing centrality of cognitive ability in social stratification during the 20th century. These include growing cognitive sorting in education, occupational standing, and income and—by implication—increasing stratification of children’s cognitive ability by their social and economic background. However, Herrnstein and Murray provide scant evidence of growth in cognitive sorting. Using data from the General Social Survey, we test each of these hypotheses using a short verbal ability test which was administered to about 12,500 American adults between 1974 and 1994. While weaknesses of the verbal ability test preclude definitive conclusions, the GSS data provide no support whatever for any of the trend hypotheses advanced by Herrnstein and Murray.