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Systemic Racism Does Not Explain Variation in Race Gaps on Cognitive Tests

Emil O. W. Kirkegaard


Published: 2023/12/01


Systemic racism theory predicts that counties where there are more White people and where people are more racist against non-Whites should have larger race gaps on cognitive measures. We used county-level data from the United States to test these predictions of the systemic racism model. We used cognitive test results from state scholastic tests from the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA) 4.1, which provided data for Black-White and Hispanic-White gaps from 1,473 and 1,750 counties, respectively. Contrary to predictions from the systemic racism model, we find that cognitive race gaps are smaller in counties with more Republicans: r’s with %Republican are -.54 and -.59 for Black-White and Hispanic-White gaps, respectively. Gaps also tend to be smaller where there are more White people, with correlations of %White with Black-White and Hispanic-White gaps of r = -.30 and -.38 (all results p < .001). We furthermore used data from Project Implicit as a measure of latent racism against Blacks. However, these also tended to have the wrong direction of results: Higher implicit anti-Black racism was associated with smaller cognitive gaps. Regression modeling reduced the effect sizes, but not the general pattern of directions. The same pattern was also seen for social status gaps as the outcome variable. Results were entirely contrary to the predictions of the systemic racism model. Keywords: Systemic racism, Institutional racism, Intelligence, Cognitive ability, Scholastic tests, Stanford Education Data Archive, Implicit Association Test, Republicans, Democrats, Black-White gap, Hispanic-White gap

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