Troublesome Inheritance – Wade’s

Troublesome Inheritance is a polemic by Nicholas Wade developing his position—racial differences are real and account for the differential success of individuals and societies. He claims that there is a 14% genetic difference across the races. The differences are not uniquely different DNA strings (we’ve all heard that humans and chimps only differ by 1-2% in genetic material), but the frequency of traits is the various individual genes by race.

Racial Differences

Four children of different skin color

 I have no problem admitting that people have a specialized heritage which darkens their skin or affects the folds of their eyes. Also, some diseases (e.g. sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs) are clearly present at higher frequencies in certain racial groups.

Societal Differences

I do have a problem with Wade’s conclusion that genetic differences, that are not found so far, must exist, and are at the root of societal differences.  On p. 124, Nicholas Wade starts his analysis of societal institutions with the patently wrong assertion— that only genetics and culture at force. Where about environmental factors? I looked high and low for him to tie culture to environment, but it’s not to be found. He ignores this hugely important factor.

Food Excess

For instance, as Jared Diamond described in “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” the low natural productivity of the land in New Guinea stunted the creation of wealth beyond individual subsistence, thwarting the creation of a class which could plan beyond the next meal and next season’s planting.

Wade’s Argument

Nicholas Wade cites differences in current institutions by different races.

  • Western nations have free enterprise and commercial success
  • African and Middle East have tribal structures and languish in economic development
  • Eastern Asia value community over individual and have mediocre success.

Wade takes this to confirm his thesis of that racial genetic differences have caused societal differences. First, we should not ignore there are outliers to his broad brush view. Second, many factors play into how a society develops its institutions driven by environment, not genetics.


Nicholas Wade in Troublesome Inheritance has not proven his contention that genetic differences between races cause significant societal differences.

The differential treatment of specialized groups of people (races) is more readily explained as the result of social rules promulgated to support the privileged position of the current ruling class.

teaching-your-kids-about-racial-harmony image from


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