Friday, November 25, 2011

Which major has the smartest students?

Using GSS data, I calculated the mean IQ for people who graduated with degrees in popular majors (sample = 855)

Mean IQ

English 112.0
History 111.3
Law 110.1
Art 110.0
Political Science 107.9
Biology 107.1
General Sciences 106.6
Education 106.1
Communications 105.9
Math 105.6
Finance 105.4
Psychology 105.2
Marketing 105.0

Overall average 104.3

Liberal Arts 104.0
Engineering 103.8
Law Enforcement 103.8
Social Work 103.6
Business Administration 102.4
Computer Science 102.2
Health 101.9
Accounting 101.7
Nursing 101.3
General Studies 101.1

Keep in mind that IQ is measured with a vocabulary test which favors verbal intelligence. Notice how the smartest students tend to major in the least practical fields.

I divided majors into practical and not practical, and found a difference:

Mean IQ

Not practical 106.5
Practical 103.4

Smart people tend to choose majors which are least likely to translate into a job. This is another indication of how smart people are not necessarily the most rational.

22 comments:

IHTG said...

You know of course that the notion that engineering and computer science students have lower IQs than art students is laughable.

Anonymous said...

I think the main conclusion which we can draw from this is that the vocabulary test is a pretty crude and inexact measure of intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Sailer posted something similar:
http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/08/graduate-record-exam-scores-by-graduate.html

Ron Guhname said...

Looking at Steve's data, it's clear that a quant. measure is a better indicator of the most intelligent majors. The impractical fields tend to draw mediocre minds, while the most and least intelligent tend to major in something practical. Occupy Wall Street protesters are probably smart, but not really smart.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Perhaps IQ scores should not be reduced to one number?

Here are some basic components of an IQ test:

Verbal Intelligence
Mathematical Ability
Spatial Reasoning Skills
Visual/Perceptual Skills
Classification Skills
Logical Reasoning Skills
Pattern Recognition Skills

We can't take one or two components and use them as a proxy for the entire constellation.

Anonymous said...

English is not as impractical of a major as a lot of people tend to believe. An English major is often required or preferred (or at least an acceptable credential) for a fair number of entry-level professional positions in writing and editing, PR, marketing, journalism, etc.

ziel said...

Wordsum of course as we all know correlates very well with general intelligence, but this data provide an interesting case where the uncorrelated aspect of it will distort the results - i.e. when the categories themselves would likely be correlated with vocabulary. No doubt if you were to look at occupations, you'd find higher Wordsum scores among librarians than physicists.

So I guess Wordsum probably should be taken with a grain of salt where the categories being compared would themselves suggest differences in vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that IQ is measured with a vocabulary test which favors verbal intelligence. Notice how the smartest students tend to major in the least practical fields.
Or keep in mind that this is a vocabulary test that correlates with IQ and it would be shameful if English majors didn't punch above their weight. I guarantee you that if this were a math test, English majors would not take up the top spot nor would History majors come in second. In fact, for much the same reason that English majors are at the top here, Math majors would be likely at the top.

I think that you should include a disclaimer that WORDSUM =/= IQ and only functions as a proxy. Separating out the IQs of various college majors is one area where it betrays its biases.

Anonymous said...

As a Classical Greek major, I would add that the solid humanities attract bright people because the humanities deal with the world of human ideas. You get to meet and deal with the great minds of history and analyze intellectual problems that are mostly universal.

I realize there are tremendously intelligent people in science, but my experience of the people who major in practical studies is that outside of their fields they are mostly inarticulate--idiots savant, as it were.

If you look at the GRE average scores, the spread is broader in the humanities than the sciences (that is humanities types do well in verbal but poorly in math, whereas math types do well in math, but often not badly in the verbal), but the fact remains that someone well trained to write, analyze and understand patterns of human belief and behavior has a much more useful skill set than someone who is well versed in mathematics.

In fact the latest issue of Scientific American Mind (Nov-Dec 2011) has an article (In the Minds of Others, Oatley) showing that reading fiction "can hone your social brain, so that when you put your book down you may be better prepared for cameraderie, collaboration, even love"--again, skills much more broadly useful in life than being extremely numerate.

Nor is the future life of a humanities major necessarily one of eternal poverty. Before I retired I was making $180,000/year (though not, I confess, by teaching Classical Greek). A nephew of mine who majored in history with a computer minor got his first job as the geek-human interface for a software company because the IT types were incapable of communicating with normal humans (customers in this case) in either standard written or oral English. He has since gone on to make great money in Silicon Valley.

If most humanities programs were serious rather than pablum for people too lazy to study math or chemistry, humanities majors would be in great demand. The skills their predecessors learned a few generations ago are greatly needed by society today.

The problem with STEM majors is that while those who can find jobs often make decent money, many of them, according to the blogs I read, remain un- or under employed. When I was in grad school many of the science majors I knew had nothing to look forward to after graduation except a badly paid post-doc.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of overrating verbal intelligence, it is interesting that the SAT added a writing subtest. I told my son that I think that writing was added to double count verbal ability. Also weird is that Asians have higher writing scores than their Reading scores, and also have higher writing scores than whites. Combining the two scores Asians and whites come out about the same on verbal abilities, which I have to wonder about. All I can figure is that dialect errors that whites make are heavily penalized while the truly weird errors that Asians make are overlooked because the test reader figures the person was just in a hurry because "no one" could actually make that kind of an error in normal speech.
I mean how can folks write better than they can read? That doesn't even make sense.

Anonymous said...

"the fact remains that someone well trained to write, analyze and understand patterns of human belief and behavior has a much more useful skill set than someone who is well versed in mathematics."


I gotta agree here. In order to most effectively manipulate and use other people, you need good verbal skills. If all you want to do is use your talents to serve and help your neighbor, then math skills are very important.

Anonymous said...

I realize there are tremendously intelligent people in science, but my experience of the people who major in practical studies is that outside of their fields they are mostly inarticulate--idiots savant, as it were


I've noticed the same thing about people with majors in non-science subjects, who with very few exceptions tend towards the kooky in their political/social/cultural views.


someone well trained to write, analyze and understand patterns of human belief and behavior


That's hubris, my friend, of the sort which leads towards the kooky views mentioned above. A person with an English lit or sociology degree is not well trained to analyze and understand (and modify) patterns human belief and behavior. But you illustrate why so many people with non-science degrees gravitate towards different forms of despotism.

Just FYI, I have a degree in computer science and can write better English than the majority of people with humanities degrees.

jnaciona said...

I suspect that the IQ mean is substantially lowered by the all the ESL students in practical fields. When I was an Computer Science major most of the people in that major were international students. That's got to bring the overall score down a bit.

Anonymous said...

The average Math major who studies Analysis and Abstract Algebra has a lower IQ than the average education major? Ha Ha Ha!

Anonymous said...

I gotta agree here. In order to most effectively manipulate and use other people, you need good verbal skills. If all you want to do is use your talents to serve and help your neighbor, then math skills are very important.

I'm almost 60 and I can't remember anytime in my life when one of my neighbors has come to me with a math problem. Where do you live that people are so innumerate they don't have the arithmetic skills for daily life? Or do you have the type of neigbors who face constant calculus or trig emergencies they can't handle themselves?

Anonymous said...

I expect better of inductivist than this. Next up: physics majors are better at calculus than english majors?

Matt said...

I gotta agree here. In order to most effectively manipulate and use other people, you need

to be able to fiddle your taxes while remaining po faced and letting only people who don't understand look at them.

I've never understood this idea that verbal blather is all that people can't see through is the only way for "users" to gain.

Mathematical blather, as recently practiced by the quants of wall street, that noone can see through, suffices much better.

Jack said...

Math/science majors have much harder coursework, and many humanities majors that I have talked to had great, easy, fun college experiences with lots of partying and getting laid. Who's the smarter one? Interesting question.

Sideways said...

"Also weird is that Asians have higher writing scores than their Reading scores,"

You're seeing the results of test prep.

Anonymous said...

This is BS. Based on GRE scores
(and probably SAT scores too)
Physics, Mathematics & Philosophy.
English wouldn't be anywhere near
the top

Anonymous said...

^^^ Agreed, this article is horseshit. I don't know where the hell you found your data. Don't get me wrong, I have a genuine passion for art myself (I'm a computer science & information systems double major) but to suggest that art majors are more intelligent than students majoring in hard sciences is ludicrous.

Christopher Fornesa said...

Wow, it's definitely laughable that someone would associate "hard sciences" to higher IQ. High IQ is nothing more than the fact that you view the world differently than others, and just saying, someone who would take hold of an "impractical" major like art would have a differing viewpoint than someone who would major in a "hard science" as the first is seen as impractical by many in comparison to the second.

Also, it's safe to say that higher IQ means higher individuality, as has been proven by other data. Therefore, if you take into account the differing perception involved in the humanities and the individuality implicit in choosing such a major, it can't be illogical that an art major has a higher IQ than, say, a Computer Science major. Then again, people will be fooled into believing the follies cause by their own superiority complex instead of seeing things in the long run and playing their parts in society according to their natural talents and abilities. I mean come on, talent can't necessarily be measured by IQ or GMAT scores. Oh yeah, GMAT is what someone takes to get into graduate school, it correlates but is not given the same purpose as an IQ test, what's with these arguments that high GMAT means high IQ score for UNDERGRADUATE major???

And there's something else that should be pointed out. GSS data comes from the WORDSUM which is part of the Vocabulary section of the WAIS. That means that for the most part, this tests for verbal IQ, not the other intelligences that you'll associate with a generally high IQ.

But thanks for the data though, this is interesting. Makes me feel okay about having a statistically significant IQ (even more when you account for verbal IQ) while planning to pursue an undergraduate art major, get a Ph.D in political science, and pursue law all before I'm 35 (I can probably achieve before 30 without any major issues to hinder me). I have the drive, the dream, and the brag so really, nothing can stop me from ambition (as long as I can help it). ;)