Thursday, June 05, 2008

Mean IQ of college grads dropped 9 points from the 60s to the 90s: The General Social Survey has collected data on a simple measure of IQ since 1974. I calculated means for whites across various degrees and decades. (Black college grads appear to have IQs three or four points lower than whites, but sample sizes are very small, so I didn't include them). Most of the action is observed with a 4-year degree, so I'll focus on it:

Mean IQ--white college grads

1960s 113.72
1970s 110.59
1980s 108.04
1990s 104.42
2000s 105.12

The trend is clear with a slight reversal in this decade. I looked at people who graduated during the 1950s and before, but I didn't list the scores since they are similar to the 60s cohort.

America is obsessed with educating everyone, regardless of ability, so admission standards have been lowered. A bachelors degree has not held its value over the years.

Fortunately, the mean score for those with advanced degrees has not fallen, but the mindless compulsion to educate more and more people will likely fix that. In my experience, the only thing keeping IQs up is that colleges cannot convince people below a certain IQ threshold to stay in school.


  1. Wow.
    Nice to see this from another angle than the percentage of population alone.

    Erhmm... I suppsoe that pesky liberal crapola Flynn effect has been controlled for somehow?

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  2. Awesome, Charles Murray was able to estimate this almost exactly using enrollment numbers and the normal distribution:

    "There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college--enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104."

  3. Here's a question: does college stop having a wage premium once IQ drops below a certain level?

    For instance, presumably a person with an IQ of 120 with a college degree earns more than a matched person with an IQ of 120 but no college degree.

    But does a person with an IQ of, say, 95 with a college degree earn more than a matched person with 95 IQ and no college degree?

    It's possible they earn less with a college degree. If their wage premium isn't high enough, their lifetime earnings could be lower due to their tuition payments and years out of the workforce.

  4. Anonymous10:09 AM

    "If their wage premium isn't high enough, their lifetime earnings could be lower due to their tuition payments and years out of the workforce."

    Unless you are going into a top 50 school or law or some major that heavily involves math, earning a college degree is increasingly not worth the time and money due to grade inflation, and AA.

    Heck, high school diplomas are already nearly useless for those not going to college.

    Plenty of teens - including many high high IQ white teens - would have better long term job opportunities if they were allowed to skip high school completely and go work for a business rather than graduate and go to college to earn a degree in journalism or sociology or whatever.

  5. Anonymous1:47 PM

    It might be useful to read this article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker as a contextual counterpoint to these types of studies.

    As IQ tests get re-normed there are sudden shifts in a whole populations IQ that entirely separate from what's the test scores are.

    With that in mind it seems likely that the true (un normed) score may be nearly the same then as now.

  6. Anonymous1:47 PM

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  7. May I suggest that this might be due to the fact that IQ is RELATIVE.

    100 is the result that 50% surpass.

    The IQ reduction observed is simply in direct relation to the increased proportion of people having a longer education.

    The later requires the former.

    You dumb idiots.


  8. "With that in mind it seems likely that the true (un normed) score may be nearly the same then as now."

    "May I suggest that this might be due to the fact that IQ is RELATIVE."

    I used raw vocabulary data to construct IQ scores, so there is no norming going on. The scores are based on a vocabulary test, and there is no evidence that the test has gotten more difficult over the years since the mean IQ score for all Americans based on these data has increased roughly one point since 1974.

  9. Anonymous7:51 PM

    The fact that there's a slight reversal this decade could be a good sign. At least the problem's not getting any worse.

  10. At least the problem's not getting any worse.

    The IQ of college students is lower in countries with lower mean IQ, so we have reason to expect the trend to continue in the future for slightly different reasons, just by looking at the demographics of today's primary school students.

  11. Anonymous8:41 PM

    Nicely done. I presume that your analysis is based on the small vocabulary test in the GSS, which would have a lot of error and hence not great correlation with "real" IQ or G. If so the "real" differences over the years are greater than differences obtained from transforming the raw vocabulary scores.

    Have you accounted for this effect in any way in the figures you publish?

    Thanks, Von

  12. von: Good point, and no, I didn't do anything to correct for the problem of measurement error.

    One thing that the GSS has going for it is somewhere between 900 and 1,800 cases per year.

  13. Ive always been confused about this. If college grads are IQ X, then college goers will be IQ X-5 or something similar because many drop out.

    Ergo Colleges, on the average, function worse than the numbers predict, socially speaking.

    Doesnt Murray say that the college grad typically has an IQ of 115? Surely, he wasnt relying on defunct data all the way from the 60's? I wish he would be clearer about that.

  14. Anonymous7:29 AM

    I also wonder how other countires are faring. Slate has a article up on the Chinese SAT (HT Sailer).

    How about former Eastern Block countries and Russia? they have had free higher Education during communism - maybe their college ranks are even worse?

  15. "Doesnt Murray say that the college grad typically has an IQ of 115?"

    Murray says one should have an IQ of 115 or higher in order to do well (not barely scrape by) in a program that provides "a genuine college-level education." The implication would seem to be that not every college, and not every degree program, provides such an education.

  16. I presume that your analysis is based on the small vocabulary test in the GSS, which would have a lot of error and hence not great correlation with "real" IQ or G.

    This is incorrect:

    "The WORDSUM measure in the GSS is a valid measure of IQ, that correlates very highly with other IQ tests (.70+)."

  17. Anonymous4:53 PM

    "The WORDSUM measure in the GSS is a valid measure of IQ, that correlates very highly with other IQ tests (.70+)."

    Interesting that it could be that high with so few questions. I did notice another item that ought to be thrown in, questions like "how are a leopard and a bear alike".

    Even a correlation as low as .70 means that the relationship between IQ and anything will be fuzzed a lot.


  18. Thanks. Fascinating.

    Just to be sure, are you sure there's no age effect in this vocabulary test data? I assume that people get slightly better at vocabulary as they age, so college graduates from the 1960s would be exposed to more words over their lifetimes than college graduates from the 2000s.

  19. steve: Except for this decade, all of the other estimates are based on data from Americans who were college age the decade before, so any mean increase due to age should be the same across decades.

  20. Anonymous8:42 PM

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  21. Even a correlation as low as .70 means that the relationship between IQ and anything will be fuzzed a lot.

    To clarify, the correlation between other IQ tests is not perfect. The Wordsum correlates just as highly with other IQ tests as they generally correlate with each other.

    Interesting that it could be that high with so few questions.

    Less surprising than you might think; IQ tests are generally longer than they need to be. A recent abstract from an international intelligence conference, IIRC, showed that a 12 minute SAT was just as predictive as the standard one.

  22. It's easier to graduate college than it used to be, in more ways than one.

    It's called Occam's Razor.

  23. Anonymous9:06 AM

    How about former Eastern Block countries and Russia? they have had free higher Education during communism - maybe their college ranks are even worse?

    Free it might have been, but accepting everyone it wasn't. We don't (and didn't) have colleges - it was 9 years "basic school", 3-4 yeasr of middle school education (either vocation-oriented or as university prep) and then 5 years of university. Access to the middle prep and university was restricted and based on entrance exams, so that only 10-15% of population went through uni or technical uni. Not many "less gifted" managed it through.

    The population with a completed middle school education represented in terms of La Griffe du Lion, the "smart fraction".

  24. As the percentage of Americans who graduate from college increases it should be obvious that the average IQ of college graduates decreases.

  25. Anonymous10:15 PM

    Interesting. But the IQ mean, from what I've read, has been moving upwards and because IQ scores are based off of the mean of test takers; it gives the illusion of IQ scores dropping as the value of the middle IQ of 100 changes. The scores supposedly change about 3 points per decade, so the information above supports this shift. From what I've read, the lower end of the IQ scores have shown the most increase. I'm assuming that education and the country's literacy has something to do with it, more people are in school now so the smarter ones don't seem as smart, it's all relative. I think it's Flynn(?), too.

    hmm seems i'm not the only one that noticed this.

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