Want to estimate somebody’s IQ?

Ask them what their college major was.


As the American Council of Science and Health puts it:

Though we don’t like to admit it, intelligence and IQ matter.

Creative people tend to have higher IQs.

Expertise, in any area, generally requires a higher IQ.

One research study concluded that a degree in math or physics takes an IQ of at least 120.

Taking the converse of that last point a step further, an analysis by Quartz indicates that a person’s college major serves as a good proxy for intellectual aptitude.

The Quartz analysis wasn’t able to determine the average IQ by college major, but it was able to triangulate from several cognitive metrics that all converged on a similar pattern.

So, extrapolating to IQ from a metric like SAT or GRE scores isn’t a big leap.


Let’s drill down on the findings …


First, it’s not surprising that all of the STEM majors sort high on the Brainiac scale.

According to Quartz:

STEM majors have consistently had the highest average academic aptitude, reflecting the fact that STEM disciplines are highly complex and require such aptitude.

Though unproven, scientists in the “hard” STEM fields (e.g. physics, math) tend to believe that these fields require some degree of brilliance or genius

OK, that’s to be expected.


But, what about the bottom of the scale: healthcare and education?

Again, according to Quartz:

These data show that US students who choose to major in education, essentially the bulk of people who become teachers, have for at least the last seven decades been selected from students at the lower end of the academic aptitude pool.

A 2010 McKinsey report noted that top performing school systems, such as those in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea, “recruit 100% of their teacher corps from the top third of the academic cohort.”

Hmm …


Awhile back, I asked a friend:

“What’s different about schools these days that make them worse than the public schools we attended?”

I said “buildings are at least as good, curriculum is better, teachers are better…”

He stopped me in my tracks by proffering: “Teacher quality is down.”

His theory:

In the old days, women didn’t have career opportunities other than nursing and teaching.

Now, the best and brightest women are going on to “higher powered” careers.

And, the voids they leave is being filled by less capable, less motivated men.

The theory may or may not be true.

But, it’s worth thinking about …



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3 Responses to “Want to estimate somebody’s IQ?”

  1. John Carpenter Says:

    I cannot avoid statistics but I do take exception to the improved environment (building, curriculum) for teachers. I think education still attracts many capable people. However, good teachers burn out after 5 years on the average because of the onerous tasks now added to their workload, lack of freedom in the classroom and poor parental participation when it is really needed, all environmental issue.. I saw this all to great effect as my intelligent (Georgetown BS in Biology) and committed daughter burned out right on schedule at 5 years as a high school science teacher. I saw her work conditions. Things like having to cope with a student who was cutting herself with a razor in class and funding her own supplies on a crappy salary. I am surprised she lasted 5 years. In my opinion teacher quality is not the biggest issue and it is a cop-out to blame it on them alone.

  2. Neel Master Says:

    Is cognitive aptitude the only (or even the most important) characteristic of a good teacher? I’d venture not.

  3. Dan Says:

    I agree 100% with your friends assessment – mostly because I reached that conclusion as well and have shared my opinion with many people. Not that there aren’t good public school teachers, there are, but the quality shift is clearly there and the female talent pool have many options today. By the way I would suggest that the quality of nursing has diminished as well.

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