There’s a lot of stigma attached to how much money you make being representative of your overall intelligence, especially in blue-collared jobs versus white-collared jobs. However, new research shows that based on IQ tests, this prejudice doesn’t have a scientific basis.
Researchers from Sweden at the Linköping University interpreted results from cognitive performance tests with information about wages earned from participants. They found that as wages increase, a plateau occurs between IQ and income. Right around an annual income of 60,000 euros, those with top earning actually had a slightly worse IQ score than those below that income threshold.
The debate that those who are earning more must be using a greater combination of skills and cognitive ability is being questioned based on studies like these. Instead of being able to make a case that some professions require workers who have above-average intelligence to earn above-average income, this study wasn’t able to find evidence to support it.
However, one notable difference between top earners and those who earn average or below average wages can sometimes depend on educational status, making the determination for income a very nuanced process. As we learn more about cognitive ability, considerations like these will be influenced over time. For now, it may simply be easier to acknowledge that cognitive ability is likely more equal regardless of job title—it may be more of a question of habituation, dedication, and educational effort, rather than simple greater intelligence. It can also serve as an inspiration point for those who are aiming higher to know that there really isn’t so much difference between those “at the top” and where we may be currently.
Marc Keuschnigg, Arnout van de Rijt, Thijs Bol. The plateauing of cognitive ability among top earners. European Sociological Review, 2023; DOI: 10.1093/esr/jcac076