Research: Yes, the World is Getting Dumber

I literally laughed out loud at this finding from a paper in press at the journal Intelligence. Apparently it’s not just my growing grouchiness as I get older: The world is becoming dumber. Hey, maybe that explains subprime.

Dysgenic fertility means that there is a negative correlation between intelligence and number of children. Its presence during the last century has been demonstrated in several countries. We show here that there is dysgenic fertility in the world population quantified by a correlation of − 0.73 between IQ and fertility across nations. It is estimated that the effect of this has been a decline in the world’s genotypic IQ of 0.86 IQ points for the years 1950–2000. A further decline of 1.28 IQ points in the world’s genotypic IQ is projected for the years 2000–2050. In the period 1950–2000 this decline has been compensated for by a rise in phenotypic intelligence known as the Flynn Effect, but recent studies in four economically developed countries have found that this has now ceased or gone into reverse. It seems probable that this “negative Flynn Effect” will spread to economically developing countries and the whole world will move into a period of declining genotypic and phenotypic intelligence.

But wait, there’s good news at the end of the article’s abstract:

It is possible that “the new eugenics” of biotechnology may evolve to counteract dysgenic fertility.

Great, great. I feel so-oooo much better now.


  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    High larious.

  2. Idiocracy is a pretty good movie, whose premise is the same as the observation made by this paper.
    Mike Judge (of Office Space (and Beavis and Butthead) fame) did the movie. Good stuff. Highly recommended.

  3. Good heavens, the “New Eugenics” of biotech? I would feel a whole lot happier if that were the name of some Brit-Pop band.
    Still, there is simply no insurance against stupidity, and I (for one) seem to be seeing a lot more of it as time leads me from year to year. Or maybe I am just more sensitive to it now? Ah, well… guess I’m going to go see if I can find the latest “New Eugenics” CD on eBay.

  4. You know it’s funny, because I was actually thinking about this sort of thing earlier tonight while I was washing my car.
    Remember Alex P. Keaton, Michael J. Fox’s witty, financially-driven character from the tv show Family Ties? Back in the mid ’80s, this kid could not get into Princeton (so the show led us to believe), despite his winning personality, native intelligence, and an all-consuming lifelong quest to become a Tiger.
    If a kid like that could not get into the school of his choice (and this is tv land, where dreams generally come true), what does that say about the competition he would have faced at that time. Not to say that a show was accurately reflecting the society, but hypothetically speaking.
    Can you imagine stumbling on one kid like Alex P. Keaton today, let alone hundreds with his intelligence and drive? I can’t, though I have seen a lot of kids who seem to resemble Eminem and the like.

  5. The Onion reported on this research a decade ago:
    Study: Uneducated Outbreeding Intelligentsia 2-To-1
    May 14, 1997 | Issue 31•18
    CHICAGO—In a report with dire implications for the intellectual future of America, a University of Chicago study revealed Monday that the nation’s uneducated are breeding twice as fast and twice as often as its educated. “The average member of the American underclass spawns at age 15, compared to age 30 for the average college-educated professional,” study leader Kenneth Stalls said. “America’s intellectual elite, as a result, are badly losing the genetic marathon, with two generations of dullards born for every one generation of cultured literates.” Added Stalls: “At this rate, by the year 2100 there will be five smart people on Earth, swallowed whole by more than 12 billion mouth-breathers incapable of understanding the binary exponentiation that swamped the Earth with their like.” High-school dropout Mandi Drucker, 16, said of the findings, “All I know is, we’re in love.”

  6. @David – I think someone peed in your end of the gene pool. College admissions keep on getting tougher and toughter – Average GPAs, test scores, community involvement etc. are way up at top schools since the era of crappy 80s sitcoms.

  7. Um, yeah, this was DEVO’s thesis 30 years ago.

  8. By the time the technology for making people more intelligent without political controversy becomes available, we’ll be too stupid to develop or use it.
    Leaving moral issues aside, the problem with eugenics is that restricting the right to give birth requires a huge bureaucracy with an extremely powerful police force. And we know what kind of people thrive in bureaucratic, oppressive societies – people with little imagination, weak sense of individual identity, no interest in responsibility and risk-taking, concerned entirely with activity rather than productivity, and of malleable mind and soul. In other words, intelligent people don’t do well. A society capable of guaranteeing high intelligence is a society in which high intelligence is socially irrelevant. Catch-22.
    We’re smart enough to figure out how to keep almost everybody alive and fertile but too animalistic to even consider whether we *should* keep everybody alive and fertile. Depressing, isn’t it? If only we were too stupid to worry about such things.

  9. @Michael Martin.
    I also thought of Idiocracy when I read that.
    Here’s a link to the first 10 minutes.