2012 October 28 Sunday
GED Holders More Like High School Dropouts For Income

Dropouts who get a GED degree are close to high school graduates in intelligence. But they do far worse in life. The attributes that cause people to drop out also make them do worse at life.

While GED holders are as smart as graduates, in terms of future outcomes (annual income, unemployment, divorce, drug use) they look exactly like dropouts.

The study made clear that “non-cognitive skills” like persistence, planning and self-control can be more important than intelligence in the long run.

What I'd like to know: can any drugs alter personality in a sustainable way that will increase performance? It is doubtful that Adderall can provide a sustained performance benefit. Though perhaps Adderall can help those with ADHD. GED holders seem like the most obvious category of people to try drugs on to look for ways to boost cognitive performance. Is there a subset of GED holders with IQs higher than the average GED holder and also with ADHD who would benefit from long term usage of Adderall or some other drug?

The claims about GED holders are based on research by Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman. The "can be more important than intelligence" claim from Eric Barker is misleading. There's a big difference between necessary and sufficient. At each level of IQ how much a person will do with their talent depends on their persistence, patience, ambition, openness and other attributes. A 110 IQ person with great personality attributes can outshine a 120 IQ person with paralyzing personality attributes easily enough. But the 110 IQ person can only achieve in ways that are within the range of what a 110 IQ brain handle. That 110 IQ person isn't going to make a major discovery in physics or computational genomics for example. They don't have the intellectual horsepower needed to play in many realms.

Heckman finds that all else equal higher IQ levels are associated with higher levels of economic achievement. People who can do more with their minds can do more with the world.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 October 28 08:53 PM 

tommy said at October 28, 2012 11:34 PM:

I doubt any drugs currently developed will help many GED holders. My suspicion from experience with this crowd is that they tend to be people with the requisite intelligence to graduate high school (and not infrequently even university) but they often have debilitating personality disorders rather than relatively treatable conditions like ADD or OCD. Drugs don't tend to be very effective at addressing these disorders and can only do so much to ameliorate symptoms. Until we have a better understanding of things such as schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders, these souls have a rough road ahead of them.

James Bowery said at October 29, 2012 11:53 AM:

I've said this before but it bears repeating:

Scheduled drugs are obviously being taken by massive populations who are not under a physician's care and who are, therefore, at risk of being imprisoned while they support organized crime. Moreover, the data on the effects of these drugs is not being gathered with anything resembling scientific rigor.

A solution to this problem, that may be more palatable than the Libertarian (capital L for neolibertarian attempt to trademark the name) approach of simple legalization at all levels of government from federal to local, is to decriminalize self-medication with the proviso that the drugs be obtained from a physician to whom the self-experimental subject is to report regularly for monitoring -- and corresponding waivers the voluntary subjects sign that absolves the public, as well as the physician, of any kind of medical support or liability in the event of damaging effects.

This does not, of course, provide placebo control, but it does provide reasonable substitutes in the form of a variety of drugs that may be shown in placebo controlled studies to have no effect but are popularly believed to be effective.

Dane said at October 31, 2012 7:01 AM:

The answer is yes, but these drugs are illegal. The effects of illegal psychedelic drugs on alcoholism are well known and scientifically verified, and what those drugs do to alcoholism they also do to other self destructive personal behaviours. Scientific literature on the subject understandably stopped being produced in the 1960s, but there are a variety of studies and personal reports highlighting the effects of these drugs(and LSD in particular). LSD usage is the single most effective treatment for alcoholism known to exist, and while there are no studies on its' effects on other negative personality traits this has more to do with its' status as an illegal drug than its' efficiacy.

MC said at October 31, 2012 1:04 PM:

Did they control for the fact that many GED holders only took it because they're in prison?

Check it Out said at October 31, 2012 1:55 PM:

I don't think that the U.S.'s highest likelihood of incarceration in the world has to do with holding GEDs or being a dropout.


MC said at October 31, 2012 6:33 PM:

Check it Out,

You have my point exactly backwards. Most high school dropouts do not take the GED. A disproportionate number of those who do only bother to do so because they are in prison. GED holders in prison are far less likely to possess successful character traits than those who take it because they want to succeed in life. In a study such as this one, prisoners could skew the measures of GED holders' success in life artificially downward.

Mike M said at October 31, 2012 9:40 PM:

Randall - FYI - The link regarding Heckman's study is from Paul Tough's book that I mentioned to you several weeks ago in the thread regarding IQ. As relates to the finding that GED holders look more like high school dropouts than hs graduates in terms of success and that this supposedly relates to other non-cognitive factors, it is pertinent that if we take a group of "low" (not retarded, but low normal) IQ students and retest them with the addition of some incentive (e.g. "I'll give you $50 if you score well on the test), there will be a subgroup of this "pseudo" low IQ group that moves into the "average" normal IQ group. Now, if we look at the future success of the three groups - the "permanently" low IQ kids, the "pseudo" low IQ kids, and the persistently "average" normal IQ kids - the "pseudo" low IQ kids will have a similar success rate to the low IQ kids, i.e. their "true" IQ does not predict their success rate as well as the "self-motivation" does. So, it isn't just the IQ, it's also some other factor(s). When Heckman found that higher IQ levels were associated with higher chances of success, his higher IQ kids were really the kids who performed well on the IQ test without some external motivation. The IQ test (without external motivation) missed the kids with a high IQ who were "slackers". So, a more accurate statement of Heckman's findings is that all else equal, higher scores on an IQ *TEST* are associated with higher levels of economic success. The IQ test, in effect, measures a combination of intelligence AND motivation.

Randall Parker said at November 1, 2012 8:13 PM:


Interesting point about incarcerated people earning their GED. We need data to know how much of the total GED holders they represent.


According to Roy Baumeister (CWRU psychologist and willpower researcher who wrote an excellent book called Willpower with NYTimes writer John Tierney) the people who have the highest success rates in recovering from alcoholism believe in a higher power. A key element of Alcoholics Anonymous is promotion of the need to ask for help from a higher power. So does LSD make people feel connected to God or to huge energy flows in the universe?

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