Wednesday, August 15, 2007

IQ and livability; Greater intelligence makes a state more desirable place to live

A state's live-in desirability, as defined by CQ Press in the form of a livability index that considers 44 social, cultural, and economic factors, rigorously correlates with that state's estimated average IQ. The correlation using my numbers is .78, while using VCU Professor McDaniel's subsequent better numbers yields an r-value of .80. In both cases, the p-value is effectively zero.

That .80 constitutes a stronger relationship with livability than with any other variable considered. Keep in mind, the importance of IQ underestimated by this method, as many of those variables are part of the 44 used to gauge livability--in this sense, they have a built in statistical advantage that the IQ estimates do not have. Other correlations with livability include:

Illegitimacy rate (-.68)
Average life expectancy (.62)
Racial composition of the population (.62)
% of the population with a bachelor's degree or greater (.56)
Violent crime rate (-.54)
Unemployment rate (.50)
Per-student educational expenditures (.45)
Gun ownership rate (-.44)
Median age (.20)

It even 'explains' slightly more than the poverty rate (r-values of .801 to .797) does, the only variable that approaches IQ's significance. Interestingly, though, IQ and poverty correlate at a more modest than expected .59. They do not relate to livability in the same way, but instead act as the two primary pillars on which it rests.

Murray and Herrnstein showed that greater intelligence decreases the probability of becoming impoverished (from The Bell Curve, p135):
Imagine a white person born in 1961 who came from an unusually deprived socioeconomic background: parents who worked at the most menial of jobs, often unemployed, neither of whom had a high school education (a description of what it means to have a SES index score in the 2d centile on socioeconomic class). If that person has an IQ of 100-nothing special, just the national average-the chance of falling below a poverty-level income in 1989 was 11 percent. ...

Conversely, suppose that the person comes from the 2d centile in IQ but his parents were average in SES status-which means that his parents worked at skilled jobs, had at least finished high school, and had an average income. Despite coming from that solid background, his odds of being in poverty are 26 percent, more than twice as great as the odds facing the person from a deprived home but with average intelligence.

Going in the other direction, a reduction in poverty, especially as it relates to ensuring that basic nutritional needs are met, bolsters IQ somewhat.

We've been waging the War on Poverty to reduce it for half a century now, yet we're in the same spot we were in at the end of the sixties. Erstwhile, the corresponding War on Unintelligence, or more palatably, the Crusade for Intelligence, has not yet been forthcoming (or has been comparable to the first wave led by Peter the Hermit in the form of No Child Left Behind). It's long past time we attack a low quality of life on two essential fronts.

The Bell Curve brought to the public mind the importance of IQ in the US, and data marshalled in IQ and the Wealth of Nations evinces how meaningful it is at the national level. It's not everything, but it's increasingly becoming clear that it is quite a lot. Raising it should become a primary policy goal.

Inevitably, such an approach will be criticized for insinuating the moral worth of people based on an attribute that is largely beyond their control. That kind of posturing is, however well-meaning, injurious.

Why not make the same argument about attempts to reduce obesity or the prevalence of autism? If there are ways to increase physical fitness or reduce the number of children born with autism, through a systematic revamping of foods to have a lower glycemic index or by encouraging men to have all their children before they reach their fifties, does that too insinuate that obese or autistic people are of lesser moral worth? Is such didactic posturing worth increasing the prevalence of obesity or autism?

In the forceful words of Randall Parker:
Anything that could raise average IQ a few points would do more to boost economic growth and lower social pathologies than increased educational spending or the other typical liberal or free market libertarian nostrums.
To oppose methods to boost average IQ (incentives for the wealthy/intelligent to have more children, the poor/unintelligent to have fewer, ensuring adequate iodine intake and vitamin consumption for impoverished children, a merit immigration system, discouraging the use of mind-altering substances), or even the discussion of potential ways to do so, must be challenged with this: There is nothing socially or economically benign that correlates inversely with IQ. I believe that is about tautologically true--I've come across nothing to the contrary, except for fecundity, which is debatably desirable.

++Addition++ Randall Parker and Arnold Kling weigh in.


John said...

Murray said success at tomato-grading is negatively correlated with IQ, perhaps the only occupation out of thousands studies with that result.

Audacious Epigone said...


Specific jobs may be better performed by people of lower intelligence, simply because those of higher intelligence find them too mundane to pay attention to. Like thousands of towels in the laundry underneath a big Las Vegas casino. But those jobs are the most easily replaced, and in this sense, having plenty of people to perform them is damaging as it creates a disincentive to investment in that replacement.

But what about broader social characteristics of all kinds? Do any exist in which IQ inversely relates?

faq said...

Subjective matters of wellbeing aren't so unanimous. There are countless measurements of happiness for example, and intelligence is unreliably all over here the map. Expectedly as people got older the wisdom from more intelligence would give higher iq the edge but some studies show that is not the case:

That is based on what people report about how they feel of course. It's malleable by other factors and hard to compare across countries or people even. People are probably happier in sunnier and warmer places, everything else being the same.

Audacious Epigone said...


The quest for happiness is one that has gone on indefatigably and in a thousand different directions for millenia. Charles Murray pretty much thinks Aristotle had it right. Cicero's conception is still popular. There are new conceptions sprouting up today as well, that are unique from any that have come before (I'm thinking virtual reality existences, and the bringing to life of the fantastic--a sort of Conservation of Reality principle brought to bear on the gauging of happiness).

The reason it doesn't seem to track clearly with intelligence, one way or the other, is (in addition to the obvious problem of conflicting understandings of just what it means to be happy) that while sharper people can attain more using their cognitive arsenal, their desires tend to be larger as well since they see how much more can be had (I'm being generic--it can be economic, philosophical, physical, cultural, existential, or some combination of these things). The less endowed can't get as much, but they are unaware that there is as much to be had.

On a personal level, I approach attaining happiness by trying to reduce my wants across the board, while simultaneously striving to condition myself into someone better able to attain whatever it is that may be desirable.

On any objectively measurable and desired attribute, I think the "IQ is necessarily not detrimental" equation still holds.

Hans Beckman said...

I've lived in a lot of places. Livability may have more to do with what you can afford combined with cultural restraints against crime, than IQ.

There are lots of enclaves of high livability nestled inside larger areas of mid to low livability. If you can afford necessary buffers from adversity and have good escape routes you can do pretty well in a low IQ setting.

JSBolton said...

The nitpicking objection I raised over tomato-grading test results, is not meant to actually contradict the general principle stated. When such exceptions are rare, and have likely explanations such as restriction of range [how many above average IQ tomato-graders would have been tested?]it becomes that much harder to think of something realy good that IQ systematically takes away from performance in, and on the level of societies.

jsbolton said...

That is, something really good, not just preferred, the way many would say thank goodness for the simple-souled[retarded] character of the people of a scenic values region, which has preserved the charm and undeveloped look of the place.

Audacious Epigone said...


No doubt you can buy your way into greater livability. But that is a cost, even if you can afford it. And it's not just economic. You may live in a 'Golden Ghetto' area of million dollar estates in the city. But you have to spend extra to get your kids into a selective private schools, watch where your family ventures to, fight heavy traffic and sub-prime infrastructure outside of your neighborhood.

From a broader policy perspective, making that livability as easy to attain as possible for the average person, not just the affluent, should be the goal.


It's clear you meant to point to the extreme exception to prove the rule. I'm taking a puritanical approach on it.

"The way many would say thank goodness for the simple-souled[retarded] character of the people of a scenic values region, which has preserved the charm and undeveloped look of the place."

The savage being no more an object of concern than the deer. Dripping with condescension, that is the mindset of one that perceives no social spectrum, as if the externalities of those people exist in a vacuum.

MensaRefugee said...

"Anything that could raise average IQ a few points would do more to boost economic growth and lower social pathologies than increased educational spending or the other typical liberal or free market libertarian nostrums."

Except that free market libertarian nostrums would mean a repeal of the progressive tax AKA less free money for the poor to have babies... and government being restricted to basic functions only AKA the rich would have a good reason to have kids as their kids wont be forced to go to government schools with a bunch of low IQ bullies as classmates.


Audacious Epigone said...


I'm with you on the progressive taxation. I'd like to see a national consumption tax to replace the income tax altogether, but flat or even regressive would be better than what we have now, by a longshot.

Regarding privatized education, vouchers would allow middle and lower-middle class parents a way to keep their kids away from the underclass. But any many middle and upper income public school districts, private education is hardly necessary. Geography acts as a buffer.

Optimally, privatized education would adjust to allow these parents to keep their kids insulated, but that could be a legal nightmare. Tough scholastic requirements would do the trick for brighter students, but what about the less endowed children of the affluent? How to keep them from being thrown in with children who are bused in from rough areas?

agnostic said...

What about the percentage of local females who exceed a given value on a 1-10 looks scale?

Audacious Epigone said...


Hmm. The relationship between lighter skin (which is related to attractiveness among females) and IQ, the correlation between obesity and poverty, and the general relationship between height, health, wealth, and education make me doubtful.

Also, eems to me white men, who would comprise the bulk of such a scale's construction, find the proportion of female members of these major ethnic/racial groups most attractive to least attractive, as follows:

1. Asians
2. Whites
3. Hispanics
4. Blacks

... Trending in the same direction as average intelligence.

Anonymous said...

As far as raising IQ -- how about reducing childhood exposure to lead? See

Audacious Epigone said...


Great link.

That even trace amounts of lead are believed to be of deleterious consequence to IQ might even provide some insight into what has caused the "Flynn effect".

If it holds up, I see no reason not to ban lead coating in virtually all kinds of consumer goods.