IQs are on the rise, but we don’t need hard facts any more | Torsten Bell

Let’s start with the good news: we’re getting brighter. Sadly, not individually as we age, but IQs have risen over time, with new generations having higher reasoning skill scores than their predecessors. This progress on abstract reasoning is in contrast to plateauing or declining scores for retained knowledge such as vocabulary.

Better nutrition or healthcare might explain some of this improvement. But there’s also been a greater focus on skills over knowledge by schools and parents. This was what Michael Gove was pushing against with his focus on children needing to learn basic facts.

But maybe Tories should chillax: despite their worries that this focus on conceptual skills was driven by dodgy leftwing teachers, it turns out this “Flynn effect” of rising IQ is at least partly being driven by the market. That’s one conclusion to take from new research comparing the results of tests by conscripts at the point of entering Sweden’s national service (which, as we’ve noted in this column before, wasn’t the panacea that nostalgic British politicians think) with earnings over their lifetimes.

It finds that the returns on reasoning skills in the labour market have risen over time relative to factual, vocabulary-style knowledge – more jobs demand those skills, while Google provides the facts. So the switch in parental focus is rational. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t be making the kids learn all the facts… just don’t do it for the economy’s sake.


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