“Intelligence solves problems and produces money,” the American businessman Robert T. Kiyosaki once said. But just how strong is the link between brain power and bank account size?
Not particularly strong, according to an analysis by Moneytransfers.com, in which we compared various European countries’ average IQs with the average wealth of their citizens.
For example, the UK and Spain had the same average IQ test scores, but the UK’s GDP per capita is around $12,764 higher than Spain’s.
A few countries did show a strong correlation between average IQ and GDP per capita, but outside influences, as explained below, seemed to have a much bigger impact. Our analysis concludes that a high IQ doesn’t necessarily mean you will make more money. As previous academic work has shown, the country you are born into can have a much bigger impact.
What we found
There was some correlation between average IQ test scores and GDP per capita in the European countries we looked at. Countries like Serbia, Croatia and Ukraine had below-average IQ test scores and low GDP per capita rates.
However, this was not always the case. The countries with some of the highest GDP per capita figures, like Ireland, Switzerland and Norway, had average scores on the IQ test – all nations with relatively small populations and major factors impacting their GDP, such as Norway’s vast natural resources and Ireland’s low corporation tax rates.
Zooming in on other parts of the chart again showed that average IQ wasn’t the greatest predictor of GDP. For example, France ranked just below average for IQ, with a score of 99. Poland scored an above average 102. Yet the former has the world’s seventh-largest GDP, at $2.6 trillion, and a GDP per capita of $40,496.40; Poland’s GDP is a much lower $595.9 billion, and its GDP per capita is $15,694.70.
The UK had an average IQ score of 102, putting it in the top 10 of countries we looked at. The UK also has the world’s sixth largest economy, with a GDP of $2.6 trillion; yet its GDP per capita is not particularly high, at $42,328.90, ranking 16th in our list.
Germany scored a very slightly lower 101 for average IQ, but clocks in with a higher GDP of $3.7 trillion – fourth largest in the world – and GDP per capita, at $46,467.50.
Spaniards ranked as brainy as Brits according to our data, with an average IQ of 102. Its economy remains the world’s 14th largest, with a $1.3 trillion GDP, but persistent high unemployment and other structural issues give it a GDP per capita of just $29,564.70.
What the science says
The link between wealth and IQ is one that has been researched extensively over the years and has broadly supported the idea that personal intelligence impacts financial status. But this is not the full picture.
For example, a study at George Mason University in 2015 found that within any given country, the link between a person’s IQ and income was relatively small, with one IQ point predicting a 1% higher income per person.
Much more significant was the average intelligence of the country in which a person lived. Across countries, one extra IQ point could predict a 6% higher income per person. Economist Garett Jones explored this link in his book ‘Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own’. “If something appears to matter more for a nation than it does for an individual, that something may well be causing positive side effects,” Jones said.
Jones identified four ‘positive side effects’ of living in a brainy country – namely, the relationship between IQ and patience, cooperation, team performance and the productivity of those around you, all of which can increase average income.
In 2007, a study at Ohio State University of 7,500 US citizens found that on the surface, strong performance in an intelligence test as a young adult correlated with a higher net worth later in life. Someone in the top 2% of scorers earnt around $12,000 more per year than someone with an average score, and their net worth was almost $128,000 compared to $58,000 for people with an average score.
However, when the researchers controlled for factors such as inheritance, lifestyle choices and marital status, the link disappeared. Factors like getting divorced and smoking had a bigger impact on someone’s eventual net worth than their IQ score in their younger years. In fact, when additional factors were controlled for, people with a slightly above-average IQ generally had a higher net worth than those with a higher IQ.
So, will a big brain get you a big bank balance? It might help. But the country and socioeconomic status you’re born into will probably help a lot more.
As stated above, it should be noted that a country’s GDP per capita and overall GDP can be influenced by various historical, social, political and geographic factors that can impact a country’s economy outside of its citizens’ intelligence.
An IQ score is generated from a series of standardised tests assessing cognitive ability in different areas, like abstract problem solving and numerical and verbal reasoning. It should also be noted that some academics argue such tests are culturally biased and also disregard other forms of intelligence such as social intelligence, creativity and memory.