Measuring a person’s intelligence is a tricky business. But measuring the intelligence of an entire nation — well, that is near impossible.
But that didn’t stop Richard Lynn and David Becker from trying. In a new book, the two researchers attempt to quantify and compare the collective IQs of the world’s 200+ nations.
The impetus for their research was twofold. First, they wanted to publish a definitive ranking of national IQs — one that could be used, and improved upon, by scholars in the future. Second, given that national intelligence predicts real-world phenomena such as societal development, rate of democratization, population health, gross domestic product (GDP), and productivity, the researchers believe that measuring it — and learning what shapes it — could provide a useful blueprint for governments and policy-makers looking to improve their own national outcomes.
Here are five takeaways from their impressive research effort.
Takeaway #1: Asian countries exhibit the highest collective IQs, with Japan in the top spot.
According to Lynn and Becker’s rankings, the top five countries with the highest national IQs are Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. Why do these countries score so high? The researchers suggest that a combination of good health and nutrition, as well as an educational system that prioritizes mathematics, science, and technology, are the most likely reasons.
Takeaway #2: European countries are in second place.
European nations also exhibit above-average national intelligence. Belarus, Finland, Liechtenstein, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, and Luxembourg rank from seventh to thirteenth, respectively. Again, this is likely due to a combination of health, nutrition, and education.
Takeaway #3: The United States ranks 29th out of the 200+ nations analyzed.
The United States ranks in the upper-middle of the pack. Perhaps more interesting is that national intelligence in the United States, according to the researchers, has been declining over time. Other notable countries include: Canada (16th), Australia (17th), Great Britain (20th), Russia (35th), Mexico (70th), Argentina (78th), and Brazil (98th).
Takeaway #4: Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are the nations with the lowest national IQs.
With national economic development comes national IQ. Thus, it is the least developed countries in the world that tend to exhibit the lowest national IQs. Rounding out the bottom ten are Guatemala, Cape Verde, Gambia, Nicaragua, Guinea, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Takeaway #5: Believe it at your own risk.
Lynn and Becker’s book is not without controversy. Critics of the research point to the fact that national IQ is an outcome, not a cause, of a nation’s success — and that it is not only inaccurate but potentially prejudicial to label the people of poor nations as any less intelligent than others. Skeptics also question whether it’s even possible to estimate national IQ, especially in developing countries where data is sparse at best. Moreover, the book invites race-based explanations of intelligence (for example, the idea that Westerners may be more creative than Asians because they have won more Nobel Prizes and that countries with higher immigration are likely to suffer drops in national IQ.) These are conversations science has tried to avoid in recent decades, but that Lynn and Becker tackle head-on.
Conclusion: Criticisms notwithstanding, Lynn and Becker believe that national intelligence is a key determinant of the long-term success of nations. Accordingly, they offer the bold conclusion that “China is likely to emerge as the world’s superpower in the second half of the twenty-first century.” Time will tell whether their prediction becomes reality, and whether science continues to find merit in the measurement of national IQ.