Facts about fame (in praise of college towns)

by on March 23, 2014 at 10:57 am in Data Source, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

From Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in today’s NYT:

Roughly one in 2,058 American-born baby boomers were deemed notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry. About 30 percent made it through art or entertainment, 29 percent through sports, 9 percent through politics, and 3 percent through academia or science.

…Roughly one in 1,209 baby boomers born in California reached Wikipedia. Only one in 4,496 baby boomers born in West Virginia did. Roughly one in 748 baby boomers born in Suffolk County, Mass., which contains Boston, made it to Wikipedia. In some counties, the success rate was 20 times lower.

…I closely examined the top counties. It turns out that nearly all of them fit into one of two categories.

First, and this surprised me, many of these counties consisted largely of a sizable college town. Just about every time I saw a county that I had not heard of near the top of the list, like Washtenaw, Mich., I found out that it was dominated by a classic college town, in this case Ann Arbor, Mich. The counties graced by Madison, Wis.; Athens, Ga.; Columbia, Mo.; Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Gainesville, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; and Ithaca, N.Y., are all in the top 3 percent.

Why is this? Some of it is probably the gene pool: Sons and daughters of professors and graduate students tend to be smart. And, indeed, having more college graduates in an area is a strong predictor of the success of the people born there.

But there is most likely something more going on: early exposure to innovation. One of the fields where college towns are most successful in producing top dogs is music. A kid in a college town will be exposed to unique concerts, unusual radio stations and even record stores. College towns also incubate more than their expected share of notable businesspeople.

African-Americans who grew up around Tuskegee did very well in achieving Wikipedia fame.  Yet how much a state spends on education does not seem to matter.  And this:

…there was another variable that was a strong predictor of Wikipedia entrants per birth: the proportion of immigrants. The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of people born there achieving something notable. If two places have similar urban and college populations, the one with more immigrants will produce more notable Americans.

The piece is fascinating throughout, and you will note that Seth is a Google data scientist with a Ph.d. in economics from Harvard.  His other writings are here.  Some of you may wish to see my book What Price Fame?

david March 23, 2014 at 11:07 am

I think this says more about the demographics of Wikipedia’s editorship than about the demographics of marginally successful people.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:09 am

Well, we didn’t have to wait long for a Wikipedia doubter to show up. It’s 2014. Get over it.

(I for one expect the same results from a “download Britannica” experiment, but of course Britannica requires a license for such an experiment.)

JWatts March 23, 2014 at 11:23 am

Your argument might be more persuasive if you actually made a point.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:28 am

Jeez, that was a zero content and self-refuting content itself, JWatts. I pretty clearly express that in 2014 Wikipedia is just another online encyclopedia, and express confidence that the shape of it is similar to Britannica or any other. I didn’t throw a link because I didn’t think I had to. This is well known to everyone but anti-wiki cranks, stuck in 2002 or something.

If you want to disprove this, throw a link to a recent study.

sam March 23, 2014 at 8:14 pm

So you don’t think there was selection bias in Britannica either?

Dan Weber March 23, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Britannica has an editorial board that decides who gets an entry. Wikipedia entries are created by anyone and then, if someone cares, have to be fought among people who have time to dedicate to fight about Wikipedia.

I know big Wikipedia defenders who decry how easy it is for marginal people to make vanity pages for themselves.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 6:49 pm

No, that is not how wikipedia works. Go ahead, and try to create a page on me.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 6:50 pm

(Wikipedia actually has a hierarchy of maintainers, similar to the structure at a traditional encyclopedia.)

david March 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

It’s not an attack. Wikipedia’s bias in favour of what English-speaking college students pay attention to is happily very small. Nonetheless, the bias will still show up in matters like “the precise identities of the 10,000th to 15,000th most notable baby boomers in the United States” because the difference in notability between the 10,000th and the 15,000th individual is so small that the ranking is necessarily going to be determined by trivialities.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:33 am

Is that even the demographic? I thought wikipedians were, like those OED oddballs, quirky people pulled from millions of net-connected English speakers.

david March 23, 2014 at 11:41 am
john personna March 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

That is an interesting page, that I hadn’t seen, but it certainly contains elements which argue toward greater diversity than any other encyclopedia project of the past:

Despite the many contributions of Wikipedians writing in English as a non-native language, the English Wikipedia is dominated by native English-speaking editors from Anglophone countries. These Anglophone countries tend to be in the global North, thereby accentuating the encyclopedia’s bias to contributions from First World countries. Countries and regions where either English is an official language (e.g. Hong Kong, India, Pakistan and other former colonies of the British Empire) and other countries where English-language schooling is common (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands, and some other European countries) participate more than countries without broad teaching of English. Hence, the latter remain underrepresented.

david March 23, 2014 at 4:05 pm

I made no claims about the relative demographics of other encyclopedias.

Brad March 23, 2014 at 5:12 pm

The relevant demographic isn’t wikipedia editors generally, it’s those involved with the arcane articles for deletion process.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:37 am

OK, this does surprise me:

“Based on a survey of over 58,000 self-selected Wikipedians by a group at UNU-Merit published in March 2010, contributors can be split into four approximately equal age-groups: those under 18, those between 18 and 22, those from 22 to 30 and the remainder between 30 and 85.”

Because while I knew the 30-85s were there, I was surprised that the under-18s were so prolific.

Thor March 23, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Gaming entries?

Careless March 24, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Check out the entries on super heroes, Thor.

prior_approval March 23, 2014 at 11:52 am

‘for a Wikipedia doubter’

No, that is merely someone pointing out something which can be easily buttressed with data.

Like this observation – ‘There is a definite seasonal pattern to editor activity, with more editors active during the North American school year than during its summer break.’

Or this one – ‘About 23% of contributors have completed degree-level education, 26% are undergraduates and 45% have secondary education or less. 87% are men and 13% women. The survey included users of 22 language editions in 231 countries.’

Leading to this – ‘The significant and stable under-representation of women results in persistently unbalanced coverage (e.g. articles related to football are much more developed than articles related to motherhood) in Wikipedia.’ Which would really tie into the idea that the 29% of articles that concern sport which cite baby boomers would seriously overrepresent a specific group – that is, professional American football players who previously played college football.

How large that effect is could be a research project for someone with a taste for examining data.

All cites are from here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedians

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

I quoted those. Do they really add up to an indictment of the data set?

I don’t think so, I think this is a classic case of people with no data arguing against a conclusion from data.

prior_approval March 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm

The point was that using Wikipedia’s own data, it is easy to demonstrate a bias in favor of sports involving Wikipedia’s contributors (that point being made by Wikipedia, and not a ‘doubter’) – and the association of professional American football to college football is obvious. Which would then tie into the fact that the 29 percent of articles involving sport and baby boomers is going to involves various shaping factors. For example, contributions by current students and alumni of those universities having major football programs.

And let us not even talk about the interest of those university football programs in promoting themselves – it has been a long time since Wikipedia was the province of the pure hobbyist. Which tends to add an entirely different level to this discussion, though of course, anyone is free to contribute to Wikipedia, and truly self-serving PR is at least possible to easily remove.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 1:54 pm

So, you think this data is flawed.

Can you actually name any data set that is less flawed?

Or is actually the best available?

HA2 March 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm

It may well be the best available. That doesn’t mean that conclusions drawn from it are automatically good; sometimes, even the best available data isn’t good enough.

prior_approval March 23, 2014 at 3:57 pm

What data is flawed?

Wikipedia’s data about itself is likely to be a gold standard, and it is Wikipedia itself that identifies its own skewing. And the fact, in Wikipedia’s own words, that this can be seen in football articles, is not unsupported anti-Wikipedia propaganda from 2002.

Which is exactly the point that was made with the remark – ‘the demographics of Wikipedia’s editorship,’ a fact that Wikipedia itself is quite aware of. Without, it should be noted, making Wikipedia a ‘Wikipedia doubter.’

Wikipedia’s entries are the results of contributions by those interested. Wikipedia provides some basic data concerning the process of those contributors/editors. It is certainly possible to draw certain conclusions based on that Wikipedia provided data – after all, Wikipedia itself does.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm

I think the data is likely to be pretty good, because it does come from the widest group ever. Now you can get hung up on the fact that they know they are not totally representative, but we have balancing that (1) their self-knowledge, (2) their hierarchy, and (3) their public standards in this area (see below, “notability(people)”).

Yancey Ward March 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

There is actually something to this. Getting eliminated from Wikipedia for having the wrong political views has been known to happen (see Megan McArdle a few years ago, for example). Though I think the reasons Cowen outlines are more powerful explanations.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:13 am

Related:

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester; HarperCollins, 1999; pages 242, $7.99 (paperback).

Mark Thorson March 23, 2014 at 12:44 pm

If William Chester Minor were still alive, he’d certainly be among the most prolific Wikipedians. Which raises the question, who are the most prolific Wikipedians? Do we have any way to figure out how many of them are institutionalized mental patients?

JWatts March 23, 2014 at 11:27 am

“I think this says more about the demographics of Wikipedia’s editorship than about the demographics of marginally successful people.”

Almost certainly the demographics of your average Wikipedia editor are going to skew very highly towards the college educated. Those same people are going to write about what they know, and they know a lot about the college they attended. So, it’s quite probable any given college town is going to be subject to a far higher amount of coverage than another such non-college town.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 11:36 am

“About 23% of contributors have completed degree-level education, 26% are undergraduates and 45% have secondary education or less.”

prior_approval March 23, 2014 at 11:56 am

One should note that the cited statistic derives from this – ‘The survey included users of 22 language editions in 231 countries.’

Yancey Ward March 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

For once, PA makes a good observation.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 1:55 pm

But as cited above, that is a sign of diversity. The Englilsh language version is enriched by both contributions from Anglophone countries, but also ESLs.

ummm March 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm

probably the 45% would apply to minor contributors.

Curt F. March 23, 2014 at 11:38 am

Relatedly, 60% of those with wiki entries made it through sports or music. Both areas seem likely to be overrepresented in college towns. Thus I would be more convinced of the awesomeness of college towns if they were also more likely to yield political and/or business elites as well as musicians and athletes.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Silicon Valley business tycoons are disproportionately from college towns. Heck, the venture capital business is centered in Palo Alto, a classic college town grown into a global economic powerhouse.

RPLong March 25, 2014 at 9:12 am

David’s point is exactly correct. I’m surprised there’s any push-back. If I claimed that “British nationals have superior musical prowess based on the metric of hit records in the 1960s,” then everyone would see how obvious this is.

Thehova83 March 23, 2014 at 11:51 am

I think it’s mostly genes. Creative people are drawn to college towns and their kids are more likely to get famous (your more likely to get a wikipedia article if your successful in the arts than business).

gwern March 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

> …there was another variable that was a strong predictor of Wikipedia entrants per birth: the proportion of immigrants. The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of people born there achieving something notable. If two places have similar urban and college populations, the one with more immigrants will produce more notable Americans.

Since this is a NYT column and he failed to look at the countries of birth of the notables (which shouldn’t have been *that* hard to extract from Wikipedia…), I think we can safely assume this is not thanks to Mexican or Central American immigrants. Perhaps this post should be titled ‘In Praise of Canadian-style Immigrant Systems’?

The Other Jim March 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm

>Since this is a NYT column….

…. you know there is no way on God’s Green Earth it would ever get published unless it painted immigration in the most positive light possible. Can you imagine if it turned out that less immigration gave you a better shot at a Wikipedia entry? We would sure as hell would not be posting about this article.

I’ll leave the data-fisking to others, but I have little doubt that the immigration correlation is very weak. Anyone who claims that a person has a better shot at being notable due to “exposure to unusual radio stations” has very serious credibility issues.

Harold March 24, 2014 at 6:30 am

What about that people prefer to immigrate to the types of places that produce notable people?

The Anti-Gnostic March 23, 2014 at 12:41 pm

In praise of small, white towns with an affluent, high-g population.

Axa March 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Not really, I’m eager to read Steve Sailer’s opinion on this:

“In fact, a black kid born in Tuskegee had the same probability of becoming a notable nonathlete as a white kid born in some of the highest-scoring, majority-white college towns.”

dirk March 23, 2014 at 5:38 pm

He’s going to say that there’s a lot of exceptional blacks in Tuskegee.

dirk March 23, 2014 at 6:07 pm

He can also point out that any random black is much more likely to be successful in music than any random white.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee, was an important figure both as an educator and as a political leader / manager. A lot of the southern black elite that emerged in the early 20th Century had ties to Tuskegee, just as a lot of the northern black elite of the same era (WEB Dubois, etc.) had ties to a handful of college towns in the Yankee belt, such as Boston and Oberlin.

gwern March 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Or he might point out that this could be a statistical artifact: the numbers cited in the article for that cluster are very small, and it’s being selected for being the biggest outlier in the dataset. So this may be exactly the same thing as why small schools and small rural districts are always at the top of rankings like test scores and cancer rates – sampling error!

The Other Jim March 23, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Or he could solidly kick all of your asses with salient facts, as he did at 8pm.

But no matter — carry on with the reckless hate!

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 9:48 pm

It could be just a statistical artifact, but the statistics line up with the history that the Tuskegee Institute was important in creating a southern black elite (e.g., the famous Tuskegee Airmen). Booker T. Washington was not just an educator but also kind of a political boss who helped his followers get ahead.

There are other pockets of black elites around the country, although none of them evidently comprise an entire county and thus don’t show up clearly in this study of counties. For example, Dunbar High School in Washington DC was opened in 1870 and its graduates comprised a large fraction of the African-American elite for about a century:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar_High_School_(Washington,_D.C.)

About 7 miles south of Beverly Hills, there is a stretch of upscale black neighborhoods, such as View Park, Windsor Hills, and Baldwin Hills that have been home to many prominent blacks in entertainment, sports, and business. The Oscar-winning documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” about black backup singers included many people from this area that is home to numerous large black churches with excellent choirs, and is also convenient to the recording studios of West Hollywood.

dirk March 23, 2014 at 10:21 pm

At 8pm he said that there’s a lot of exceptional blacks in Tuskegee, exactly as I predicted.

Steve Sailer March 24, 2014 at 7:31 am

I doubt if there are a lot of high achieving blacks anymore in Tuskegee, but there probably used to be.

Today, the Atlanta area stands out as a mecca for well-educated blacks.

hamilton March 23, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Seth appears to have several projects using Google data. Does anybody happen to know if non-Google affiliated researchers can get their hands on data like this? His paper that’s R&R at Journal of Public Economics, for example, has some cool data on searches, but could anybody have had the data at the sub-national level, or just Google folk?

ummm March 23, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Wikipedia is the perfect meritocracy. Being a STEM major, being an economist, being smart, rich and successful gets you an entry.

john personna March 23, 2014 at 1:58 pm

That is not actually the published criteria:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability_(people)

Axa March 23, 2014 at 1:58 pm

“About 30 percent made it through art or entertainment, 29 percent through sports, 9 percent through politics, and 3 percent through academia or science.”

30 + 29 + 9 + 3 = 71 What about the other 29%?

Anyway, 60% of “fame” comes from art/entertainment and sports. Priorities are clear =)

Marie March 23, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Criminals make up a big chunk, I think.
School shooters, serial killers, etc.

Cyrus March 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm

It’s worth noting that the Wikipedia standards of notability vary substantially among the fields of human endeavor. In sports and music, if you can make a living at it, you are Wikipedia-notable. (For example, any American football player who has played in even one NFL game is notable.)

In other fields, the notability criterion is rather more strict. Apparently not every assistant professor is notable.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 9:51 pm

For example, every single Oscar nominee for Best Sound (in recent years, there have been four per movie, so 20 individual per year) gets his (or occasionally her) own Wikipedia page. This hyperfocus on the entertainment industry benefits native Californians. In contrast, when the coal industry in West Virginia gives out awards, it’s not considered as Wikipedia worthy as the Oscars.

QWERTY March 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Please tell us more about the immigrantion effects.

Dos this support the idea of Open Borders – so many more famous people.

Or is immigration back then and immigration today, two very different thing?

Is it a causal relationsship? And which way?

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Mexican-Americans tend to be extremely non-famous. There are about 35 million Mexican-Americans (or 11% of the population) but they are amazingly under-represented among the prominent, and nobody ever notices. For example, there is endless controversy about how many blacks there are on Saturday Night Live, but nobody ever notices that SNL has never had a cast member who is more than 1/4th Mexican. (Horatio Sanz was born in Chile.)

A couple of years ago I determined that while members of the Mexico City cultural elite such as Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki have done very well for themselves in Hollywood after first making their reputations in Mexico, nobody of Mexican ancestry who had been born or just raised in America had been nominated for an Oscar since Edward James Olmos in the 1980s. (This includes technical fields like sound editing.)

There may well have been more Mexican-American celebrities when I was young (golfers Lee Trevino and Nancy Lopez, tennis player Pancho Gonzales, singers Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt, comedian Cheech Marin, movie star Anthony Quinn, etc.) than there are now.

msgkings March 24, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Why do you keep forgetting Salma Hayek? She’s kinda hard to forget, to me

maybe because she's not mexican March 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm

good question

Careless March 25, 2014 at 8:17 am

Because she wasn’t born and raised in the US.

Steve Sailer March 24, 2014 at 5:34 am

Los Angeles County is the birthplace of the the largest number of Baby Boomers with Wikipedia pages in the country. It’s also the home to the most immigrants in the country and to the most American-born baby boomers of Mexican descent. (I can safely say this because at 10 million people it’s by far the largest county in the country.) But there aren’t a lot of overlap among those categories.

Steve Sailer March 24, 2014 at 7:34 am

Actually, now that I think about it, Cook County, IL had a larger population than Los Angeles County until about midway through the Baby Boom. By the way, a sizable fraction of the growth of Los Angeles in this period came directly from Chicago, especially Los Angeles’s Jewish population.

blink March 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm

It is a compelling just-so story, perfect for NYT, but where is the paper? I am skeptical of Stephens-Davidowitz’s editorial-before-peer-review style.

More importantly, 2,000 notables is a small number. Even if they were randomly distributed, some pockets and patterns would turn up. Remember how data about small schools fooled many, though the “impact” was really larger variance. Why isn’t the same true of college towns?

dirk March 23, 2014 at 5:29 pm

The music argument isn’t compelling. A town with lots of musicians and musicphiles is going to produce a lot of kids with innate musical talent. Pretty hard to split the nature/nurture atom on this one.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 9:00 pm

The popular music business isn’t so much about identifying the most musically talented individuals, it’s about, especially among Baby Boomers, identifying new trends. And there it helps to be in amidst a critical mass of people in touch with new trends.

For example, I have zero musical talent, but when I was at Rice U. in Houston in 1976-1980 I was the resident rock music prophet because I repeatedly told everybody about which bands would soon be big — Ramones, Clash, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Police, etc. etc. — before almost anybody in Houston had heard of them. How did I pull off this magic trick? I’d go home to L.A. and listen to what was being played on KROQ.

So, growing up in, say, Austin, TX or Athens, GA was better for becoming a trendy musician than growing up in a non-college town of the same size.

dirk March 24, 2014 at 12:19 am

I grew up a block from Rice U. during those years and was raised on the Rice radio station KTRU, which taught me a lot about punk, jazz, blues and bands like REM that would become big by the late 80’s. Was KTRU not around before 1980?

Disagree that success as a musician is about identifying new trends. Anyone immersed in music knows the trends. What matters for would-be musicians before the age of 20 is to become technically proficient. Being amid a critical mass of people in touch with trends/the business only matter when you are older. For instance, I know a number of professional musicians who grew up in Houston but moved to Austin or New York in their 20’s.

Steve Sailer March 24, 2014 at 1:48 am

“For instance, I know a number of professional musicians who grew up in Houston but moved to Austin or New York in their 20′s.”

Sure, but do you really think they wouldn’t have minded being equally proficient but also being native to Austin or New York and thus getting about a five year head start on their careers?

And then there are the not so proficient: would The Ramones have had so many articulate critics explaining why they were cool if they grew up in Peoria rather than New York?

By the way, there has been a generational change since about the beginning of Generation X’s day: it’s now assumed that it will take years to break through to stardom in music. Rock bands these days are more musically proficient than in my Baby Boomer youth when it was common for stars to be very young when they made it big on some youth fad. The Beach Boys, for example, couldn’t really play their instruments when they became stars, but there was a huge music industry in Southern California that could supply studio musicians for their records. It was more important that they represented a young, fresh demographic.

Steve Sailer March 24, 2014 at 7:42 am

Did you shop at the Houston punk record shop The Vinyl Solution? It was owned by a guy named Ronnie who had a band called Really Red.

It was fun being a music fan from L.A. in Houston in the late 1970s. The record labels made sure all the new bands played Houston, but there was so little local demand that prices were very cheap. I saw Talking Heads for $2, Elvis Costello for $3, The Police for $3.

Kyle M March 24, 2014 at 6:53 am

As someone from a small college town that punches above its weight in music, one factor I’d point to is cheap music tutoring. There are a lot of very talented college music majors who will tutor high school kids for $10-15/hour. That creates a pretty powerful feedback loop over time as those kids graduate to the local college.

Steve Sailer March 24, 2014 at 7:37 am

Good point.

For German classical music, the Lutheran college St. Olaf in Minnesota seems to be very strong. Garrison Keillor does a lovely tribute to the omnipresence of beautiful music at St. Olaf’s helping everybody get through the vicious winters.

Dale March 23, 2014 at 6:37 pm

I have a different explanation, notwithstanding all of the potentially correct comments about selection biases. Perhaps it is just the “law of small numbers.” The rate of Wikipedia entries is a rate – it would be expected to take abnormally high (and low) values in smaller towns. College towns tend to be smaller – most people don’t identify large cities as “college towns” even when they have a lot of colleges. To test this, we would want to see if places like Boston also come out unusually high and whether the places that are unusually low also tend to be smaller towns.

ricardo March 23, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Nice one.

dirk March 23, 2014 at 6:44 pm

“The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of people born there achieving something notable.”

Considering the sample is limited to people born before 1964, this fact doesn’t seem too relevant to the current immigration debate.

Limiting the data to baby boomers also raises a flag. The logic given is that baby boomers “had a whole lifetime to get famous”. OK, but if the cutoff had been for those born before 1970 or 1980, would we expect the results to be different? If including younger people caused a mean-reversion in the results, wouldn’t that tell us that the effect isn’t robust not that it was a mistake to include those people? Changing the “born” date in the algorithm seems easy enough, so why not tell us what the data looks like after the parameters have been played with a bit? I want data presented in a manner that lets me know you aren’t hiding something obvious. This study reeks of the authors hiding a mean-reverting sample.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson has long identified as a College Town Kid:

“My great-grandfather was a professor of classics. One grandfather was a physics professor, the other was a biochemistry professor. My dad and a bunch of my uncles were professors. I grew up in college towns, and all of my friends’ parents either had Ph.D.s or were working on their Ph.D.s. So in that sense, I spent my entire life up until the age of about twenty-four in academia.”

http://www.bu.edu/bostonia/fall08/stephenson/

He wrote an essay, perhaps not online, about the contributions of fellow College Town Kids.

Dismalist March 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

The higher the proportion of immigrants, the greater the likelihood of making a Wikipedia entry? But, but, we are all immigrants! The difference among us is in timing and degree of voluntariness only.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 8:36 pm

“Roughly one in 1,209 baby boomers born in California reached Wikipedia. Only one in 4,496 baby boomers born in West Virginia did.”

As a California baby boomer, I’ve often remarked on how much opportunity Californians enjoyed for much of the 20th Century, especially in more obscure fields. For example, Californians are well represented in the ranks of football players, a national sport, but they are especially well-represented in the ranks of the more unusual sports that get their day in the sun only every four years during the Summer Olympics.

The entertainment sphere is especially well-covered by Wikipedia, and Southern California had huge advantages in that, both nepotistic and simply regional. There are lots of Wikipedia entries for film technicians who got some Oscar recognition. If they’d grown up in Peoria, they’d probably have been talented farm equipment technicians but not have a Wikipedia page.

Until March 23, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and California had great schools before the tide of non-whites arrived. It was these great schools that attracted many non-white immigrants. People want to twist it around that non-whites came first then great schools. The foundational character white people put into these places are still in effect even if they are not run by them. You see the imprint of whites in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama and Macau which remain more successful than surrounding areas today even though they have been run by East Asians for decades.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Right. For example, Amy Chua was born in Champaign, IL because her father, Leon Chua, moved there because he’s a top physicist. But, the U. of Illinois was a top STEM school when it was practically all American — recall how HAL9000 in 1968’s 2001 was built in Champaign-Urbana.

It would be interesting to find an exception to this pattern of recent high-achieving immigrants conforming to regional patterns established by their American predecessors. For example, the suburban neighborhoods around Caltech are now full of Asians who get 800 on the math SAT, but Caltech wasn’t founded by Asians. Similarly, Silicon Valley is full of Asian electronic engineers, but it’s been a center of the electronics industry since Lee De Forest invented the vacuum tube in Palo Alto in 1912. So, legal immigration over the last 45 years mostly seems to reinforce the achievement patterns already established by white Americans.

Probably the biggest cultural change due to immigration has been in Miami, which has attracted middle class and oligarch-class immigrants from all over Latin America.

Steve Sailer March 23, 2014 at 8:41 pm

“College towns also incubate more than their expected share of notable businesspeople.”

Tom Wolfe’s 1983 profile of Intel founder Robert Noyce focuses on his growing up in Grinnell, Iowa as the son of the chaplain of Grinnell College: very Max Weber Protestant work ethic-style. Wolfe’s observation was that Silicon Valley in 1983 was culturally an outpost of the Northern midwest, especially of Protestant college towns.

EorrFU March 24, 2014 at 1:24 pm

While there are some valid criticisms of the study some people are confusing where people live from where they were born.

On the immigration question, was the level of immigration during the birth years used or the level of immigrants living there now?

rog helder March 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I’m surprised that none of the comments have mentioned the G.I. Bill. I, for one, was born in Washtenaw County because my dad was attending grad school thanks to this transformative program. So many veterans attended under the Bill that married-student housing had to be instituted at most colleges, and the U. of M. hospital had to expand to accommodate the influx of baby-boomers born to these students. Over 15% of baby-boomers graduated with a B.A. or B.S. degree, more than triple the rate of the pre-World War Two generation. It is not surprising that an appreciable number of this group were born in college towns that their parents attended as students.

EorrFU March 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I think it is more about network effects and infrastructure. Where one is born (and presumably raised) provides huge benefits in experience and resources. This also probably attracts immigrants overall.

I’m reminded of the story in Outliers about how Bill Gates had access to a computer as a teenager and thus was able to develop coding skills at a relatively young age.

I wonder if some of the stagnation we are experiencing today or related to the implicit and explicit subsidies for rural and suburban life. The urban centers of America are drivers of productivity. The superior access to infrastructure and people drove the achievement of the boomer generation. If so, then we may have hurt growth through incentivizing the stagnation of urban growth through you the 70s and 80s.

Just perusing the historical data suggests that the states with urbanization decreases in the 70s doesn’t look very good in terms of economist growth.

I do have a strong prior in believing that restrictive zoning is the greatest of sins that is committed today against the people largely from the sense that what I posit above is to some extent true.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: