Pew Shows the AFQT Matters

Written by Noah Kristula-Green on Friday September 16, 2011

One of the notable findings from Pew’s new survey on economic mobility was that there is one test which does a very good of job of predicting economic mobility. That test is the military’s AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test).

The AFQT is the exam the military uses to judge the mental aptitude of its applicants and was administered to the survey group of the Pew study. Erin Currier of the Pew Economic Mobility Project told FrumForum about the predictive power of the test:

This data shows that AFQT scores alone are more important in explaining the black-white gap in downward mobility among men then a host of other personal and background factors. The scores could be soo important that they explain the entire gap.

As for the policy implications, Currier, in her own words said that, “What’s still left to understand though is what this really means, and what AFQT is really representative of.”

Currier suggested that the test scores could be an indicator of school quality, infant poverty, and childhood nutrition among other possibilities. “It’s very difficult to disentangle what is going on in AFQT” she explained, stating that there is a “huge” gap in the social science research on the topic.

Of course the idea that the AFQT measures something that is highly predictive of a person’s lot in life is not exactly new. Heated discussions about what the AFQT is measuring have been occurring for decades. (Certainly since the publication of The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein.)

The Pew study's confirmation that the AFQT is highly predictive should encourage a more thorough and frank discussion of what these scores reveal--and what changes in a person’s upbringing and environment could lead to higher scores.