The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Is a big family bad for IQ?

A century of studies on family size and IQ have consistently come up with an unnerving conclusion: on average, across populations, (rather than individual families, who may be exceptional), a big family, means a lower average IQ of each family member. This is not one, isolated study showing this: there are innumerable studies over a century.

Now, what is the reason for this correlation? There are two obvious possibilities. One is that as the family size increases, the parents have less time to give attention to individual children, less money to pay for education and, therefore, the greater the number of children, the less stimulation each child receives. The other possibility is that large families are the product of low IQ parents, of lower social economic class - and indicate differential inheritance, rather than a difference caused by family size, per se.

Traditionally, larger families HAVE been the product of lower socioeconomic classes - and so these studies may be reflecting differences of income and educational opportunity rather than an effect of family size.

On the other hand, as I pointed out in my earlier post, "On being a father of three",, having a larger family does mean less time to apportion to each child, with probable consequences for their intellectual growth.

So, given this, what is one to do with regards to family size? I have three children and would like more - so in this I have joined the 28 per cent of American parents with three or more children. A recent report stated that the nature of these parents is changing: many more of them are from wealthier, better educated families than before. This could be the beginning of a good trend, therefore - of brighter parents, having more children. Are these families condemning their children to dullness? I don't think so. I think the genetic effects are stronger than the environmental and will still allow their children to be bright. Why do I think this? Well as I pointed out in an earlier post on Genius IQ and Genetic Inheritance,, the IQ of parents correlates 0.8 with the adult IQ of their children. That argues a strong role for their genes, and a much smaller role for the environment provided.

If you have a gifted child, it is likely that you could have another if you chose. That your family is getting bigger and your attention would be diluted among more children is probably a smaller factor than the fact that you already have what it takes to make a gifted child, genetically.

Then there is the matter of chance. Which genes a child inherits is random: they will get a selection of half the genes of each parent. Anything can happen in that process - giving a spectrum of results. Yet, if you have more children, you also have more of a chance that one of them will get the right mix of genes and turn out to be gifted - if that is what you want in your child.

It is a difficult matter, family size, for there is no denying that, as the family gets bigger that there is a greater division of attention, time and money. It is, I feel, up to each individual to judge the weight of each of the issues and decide the question: just how big do you want your family to be?

I know the answer for me: at least one more: after three boys, it would be nice to have a girl, too!

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and one month, or his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:29 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a big family. 4 kids and I think that the more kids I had the smarter my kids became as they played with each other and they learned from each other and from my husband and me.

Not sure I agree with the big family low IQ thing here.

I think that I would like to know how the statistics were obtained.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi. The studies began at the beginning of the twentieth century shortly after the origination of the IQ test. Some of the scientists behind the studies were early IQ pioneers such as Cattell. As far as I am aware, they simply looked at the IQs of a large number of people in relation to their family size and found that the larger the family one was from the lower the average IQ.

As I pointed out in the post above, this does not mean that an individual large family might not be bright with a high IQ. It is just talking of population averages. There are a very large number of studies done on the phenomenon - almost all of them with the same result.

I come from a big family and yet are it is clear that it does not mean that a particular family won't be bright.

I just thought it would be of interest to my readers to your attention to the studies.

Kind regards

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Valentine. I think that you might find that the problem is that big families are usually poorer and because a gift in the wrong environment doesn't develop (gifted kids are not telepathic) then due to lack of exposure it might show as though they have lower IQ's but you can probably bet your bottom dollar they are smarter in ways that an IQ test cannot measure.

Nobody is born knowing.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

One way in which kids from larger families may have an edge, is in social skills - and that is not picked up on IQ tests. Some research has shown an edge for kids from families of two or more children compared to single children.

I agree that no-one is born knowing...but some kids are born with a great capacity to learn - and that allows them to do well in circumstances in which others might not. That being said, a more favourable circumstance would produce a more favourable result.


1:56 PM  

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