Daniel Lemire's blog

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Income, wealth, intelligence and the fall of the American empire

Arcand‘s latest movie (the Fall of the American Empire) depicts a young man (Pierre-Paul Daoust) who is supposedly very intelligent, but not very wealthy. The movie begins with the character explaining that intelligence actually gets in the way of success.

I have certainly met my share of folks who must have very high intelligence and who are not particularly wealthy. There are many interesting intellectuals like Grigori Perelman who are obviously three standard deviations above the average in intelligence, but not in wealth.

What does the research says about this? Psychologists measure intelligence using IQ tests.

There is much evidence that people with a higher IQ have a higher income. The correlation is relatively high (between 0.3 and 0.4). And the elite are largely drawn from the intellectually gifted.

But wait! Income is not the same thing as wealth… the impact of IQ scores on net worth after accounting for other factors is either zero or close to zero, according to economist Jay Zagorsky. Sadly, this is a single study from 2007 and I could not find any relevant follow-up work to validate the analysis.

All and all, I can find no evidence that a high intelligence is an obstacle in the quest for success.