The Distribution of IQ And The Welfare State

No amount of encouragement or training can make people with low IQ perform better. So something or someone has to give.



Some weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with my dad. We don’t really talk much, but when we do, he usually shares some interesting nuggets of history or data that I tend to think about long after we’re done talking. So this is what I found so interesting the last time I talked with him (to paraphrase):

“The army figured out long ago that they can’t take in anyone with an IQ lower than 85. And they estimate that group to be about 10% of the American population. They found such people to be unable to take and follow orders, and that there wasn’t much that could be done for them. No amount of training or encouragement could help these people, so we need a social safety net for these people. We can’t just let them die.”

That is from someone who is more Republican than just about anyone I know. It’s a refreshingly honest assessment of humanity, a kind of tacit acknowledgment of the range of human capacity and skill. I was shocked to hear this from my dad, and I was quietly glad to hear it.

I had to verify this, so I did some research and sure enough, I found the Bell Curve of IQ distribution:

I know it’s a little small, but if you look closely, you’ll see that an average of all IQ tests shows that roughly 14% of the population has an IQ of 85 or less. That’s been a consistent pattern over many decades, so there’s no shaking them off. Those people who laugh at puns most of us would groan at, they’re with us. And they serve a purpose. But they may not be so able to help themselves.

The good news is that those with low IQs are in the minority. The bad news is that our IQ declines somewhat as we age. I know this from reading the headlines about young people scamming old people. I know this from personal experience watching old people decline. The brain is a delicate instrument and it’s biologically expensive to maintain. I suspect that once we’ve had our kids and they’ve flown away, the brain has to either get busy or wither.

While researching this article, I found a comparison of average IQ scores across all 50 states from Inc. Magazine. Here’s the top ten:

  1. Massachusetts 104.3
  2. New Hampshire 104.2