LETTER: Success is largely due to ability and genetics, not class

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The Independent Online
IN HER column, "Blame the genes of the poor and pull up the middle- class drawbridge" (17 December), Polly Toynbee describes my ideas as "lethally dangerous", my research as "horrible", my logic as "dreadful" and, she says, I have disguised my hidden ideology under a "veneer of science". My research results are dismissed as "bizarrely nonsensical".

So what are these lethal, horrible, dreadful, ideological and nonsensical claims I have made? Simply, that in modern Britain, ability counts! I thought this would be good news.

For the record, I do not claim that "the brightest and the best of all social classes rise to the top on brain and good attitude alone". Had Ms Toynbee read my results she would have discovered that I found ability to be about three times more powerful than social class background as a predictor of where people end up in the occupational system. The social class of your parents, and other factors connected with social background, do still make a difference, but it is a relatively small difference. To the extent that we can predict people's occupational destinies, ability is by far the strongest single predictor.

Of course, Ms Toynbee would still dismiss these findings on the grounds that measures of intelligence (such as IQ tests) favour those from higher- class backgrounds, but my research took account of this. For example, when we compare children from similar social class backgrounds, it is their IQ test results which best distinguish those who later become successful in the occupational system from those who did not. Bright working-class children generally succeed; dull middle-class children often fail.

Furthermore, the average IQ score of children from middle-class homes who then dropped out of the middle-class was lower than that of children from semi and unskilled manual worker backgrounds who made it into middle- class jobs. Clearly, IQ is telling us something about innate ability, over and above the advantages or disadvantages associated with different social origins.

Professor Peter Saunders

University of Sussex