Q&A: Researcher Finds That Women Have Higher IQs Than Men

Photograph by Martin Soeby/Gallery Stock

We often hear that the modern world—what with television, the Internet, and technology in general—is making us dumber. But according to IQ researcher and University of Otago Professor James Flynn, author of the book Are We Getting Smarter?, people in the developing world have actually gained 30 IQ points over the past century. That doesn’t mean we’re all geniuses now. Flynn says the modern mind is better able to deal with abstract problems, however. His results have been particularly resonant on the subject of gender. Flynn argues that, for the first time, women are scoring higher on IQ tests than men. Bloomberg Businessweek caught up with Flynn to discuss the new gender gap.

So, did a woman put you up to this study?
No. I was interested because my book is about IQ gains over time. Everyone has been gaining three IQ points every decade for a 30-point gain. Women have gained on men. American blacks have gained on American whites by five points since 1972, but still are 10 points short.

Shouldn’t men get their act together to get smarter?
Women are only about a point ahead. IQ is not a pure measure of intelligence, but also academically acquired skills. Women interface better with formal education. It’s only because they have less testosterone to interfere with the use of their intelligence.

Are you worried about the future of your sex?
No. I think boys have more testosterone, so they are more rebellious at school. I don’t think that will escalate more than present. Their testosterone level won’t go higher in the next 200 years. They are as disadvantaged as they will ever be. But how do you get boys to be more at ease in a formal educational setting? Once they get out in business world, they stop rebelling. It’s something about formal school that ticks them off. It’s a school-related phenomenon. On the job, it seems to even out.

More women are teachers. Maybe formal education is geared toward women?
That’s part of it, no doubt, but men don’t want to be as disciplined by command. They rebel, even if it’s a male teacher.

Why look at it as a competition between men and women anyway?
You tell me. It’s because group differences fascinate human beings. They are always on the lookout for differences. I am Irish American. We are more like women: We emphasize verbal skills and are novelists and civil servants, but not in professions like mathematicians. We tend to be talkers. Should we weep and cry because we’re not mathematicians? I don’t think so. Why are more Chinese at Berkeley? Why are there more blacks in basketball? [People] are fascinated with group difference, particularly intelligence.

Is this news about IQ good for working women?
An individual is who you are. The group doesn’t change who you are. There’s no doubt that modern women at least equal men for cognitive ability, with some strengths in verbal. Many women are entering law, journalism, and psychology. But why are they not heads of corporations? Many are probably not willing to work 16 to 17 hours a day and neglect all the people in their lives.

Then should we care about IQ equality between the sexes?
Pay attention to the individual and see what the promise of each individual is.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.