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An S Factor Analysis on the Provinces of Vietnam: Relationships with Cognitive Ability, Ethnicity, and Latitude

Emil O. W. Kirkegaard and Bryan J. Pesta


We compiled cognitive, ethnic, and socioeconomic data for the 63 provinces of Vietnam. The cognitive data came from math and reading achievement tests administered to 70,000 fifth-graders in 2001 (World Bank, 2004). Ethnic and socioeconomic data were coded from various official sources (e.g., The General Statistics Office of Vietnam). Analysis of the socioeconomic data revealed a general factor (S) that was robust to variations in extraction method and controls. The average cognitive ability of the provinces correlated .47 with the S factor. The strongest predictor of S, however, was ethnicity. Specifically, the percent of Vietnamese (Kinh) within each province correlated .74 with S. Moreover, this effect was not mediated by cognitive ability. The lack of mediation is inconsistent with results from earlier studies that examined relations between ethnicity, cognitive ability, and socioeconomic outcomes (see, e.g., Fuerst & Kirkegaard, 2016). Also inconsistent with prior studies, although latitude correlated positively with cognitive ability, it did so inversely with the S factor. We discuss several potential hypotheses for why these discrepant effects occurred.

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