Mental Ability and the Sources of Occupational Success

Hauser, Robert
Working paper no. 1998-07


Students of social stratification often ignore cognitive ability. By ignoring it, they are open to the accusation that they have failed to consider the full range of factors affecting social and economic success, and they leave the field open to advocates who claim, unrealistically, that cognitive ability is the key variable in social stratification. In this paper, I review some features of the psychometric argument and evidence commonly offered to support it, with particular emphasis on the relationship between cognitive ability and occupational standing. Much of the standard psychometric evidence is weak, but ability does play a significant role in social stratification, primarily by way of its influence on schooling. There is no clear evidence of trend in the role of ability in the stratification process, and other social psychological variables may be equally important. All of my evidence is drawn from the U.S., and I offer it partly as encouragement for other scholars to address similar questions in their own societies and cross-nationally.