The Flynn Effect and Future Research
Written by: James R. Flynn
What Our IQs Mean
If the significance of the “Flynn Effect” is appreciated, we will stop looking at IQ trends as exotic numbers and see them as signs of social problems, changing social relationships, and what aging does to our minds.
The social problems they suggest are numerous. If you want to investigate the effects of not allowing women full access to the modern world, look at Israel. It is the one advanced nation that—as late as the 1980’s—showed women with a lower IQs than men. About 20 percent of its women are sheltered from the modern world in highly orthodox homes and their lower-IQs pull down the female average.
The fact that university women have an average IQ that is two or three points below men has been taken as evidence that women are less intelligent than men. In fact, it dramatizes a grave social problem that afflicts males. Throughout the developed world, girls of 17 with an IQ of 100 are getting better grades than boys with an IQ of 100. Therefore, average IQ girls tend to get to university and boys do not. Boys are not just getting worse marks at school, they are also learning less. At 17, only the top fourth of American boys match the top half of girls for written composition and only the top third match them for reading. It is no mystery that women are taking over verbal professions like law and journalism.
As for changing social relationships, adults have made large vocabulary gains since 1950, their children only small gains. Who would have thought that child and teenage subculture would have become so powerful and inward looking as to keep them from being socialized into their normal speech community? Neither the word “teenager” nor teenage subculture existed in 1950. But even younger children seem somehow more “culturally distant” from their parents.
IQ trends also show how much we have yet to learn about how aging affects our cognitive faculties. I have discovered something I call the “bright tax.” The brighter you are for analytic ability, all the way from below average to average, from average to above average, the more sharply your powers decline after 65. (The reverse is true for verbal abilities). Is a potent analytic brain like a high performance sports car that the body cannot maintain in old age, or do we upon retirement from cognitively demanding work stop using our analytic skills, and lose an exercise advantage we have had over someone in a humdrum job?
This is not to say that these questions, or other fascinating questions, will actually be investigated. It will take some “sociological imagination” and psychology has become divorced from sociology. My book closes with 14 case studies in which psychologists misinterpreted their data because of lack of sociological imagination—i.e., their unwillingness to recognize social reality.