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Peter R. Orszag

For the Marines, a Troubling Decline

Officers today score lower on IQ tests, and it's not clear why.
Test scores falling.

Test scores falling.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
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Americans have well-founded respect for their military officers -- as the backlash against Donald Trump's outlandish statements about John McCain's military service has underscored. So it is upsetting to learn that the U.S. Marine Corps may be suffering some decline in the quality of its officers.

In general, Americans get smarter over time, measured by the rise from one generation to the next in average performance on intelligence tests. This steady trend is called the Flynn effect, after the academic James Flynn whose research has illuminated it. Unfortunately, new research shows a reverse Flynn effect for the officers of the Marine Corps: The average new officer today performs substantially worse on an IQ test than the average new officer did 35 years ago.