Income, IQ, and profession

Research from Bristol:

Doctors and lawyers are more likely to come from wealthy backgrounds according to new research from the Department of Economics that indicates that the ‘social gap’ that prevents poorer people from entering the top professions is becoming more pronounced over time.

Using data on family income and IQ in childhood drawn from the National Child Development Survey (NCDS), which tracks a representative sample of the population born in 1958, and the British Cohort Study (BCS), which follows people born in 1970, the research shows that professions such as law and medicine attract better-off people, compared with other professions such as teaching and nursing, although differences in IQ test scores for the former decreased over time.

On the other hand, those who became engineers and nurses – two professions with the lowest average family incomes across the groups and the lowest IQ scores for those born in 1958 – appear to buck this trend with the average IQ scores for both professions increasing over time.

Press release continues here.

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0 thoughts on “Income, IQ, and profession

  1. On the other hand, those who became engineers and nurses – two professions with the lowest average family incomes across the groups and the lowest IQ scores

    I’m positive I didn’t read that right.

  2. Whoa! Scare story! “Top professions”, “rich vs. poor”, “widening gap”.

    First of all let’s dispense of the myth that physicians and lawyers are gazillionaires. Why do people think physicians or lawyers must be wealthy? Some are – and these are probably the some who came from wealthy families to begin with. Come to think of it the only wealthy surgeon I know was born a multi-millionaire. As for lawyers, I’ve known a few lawyers and judges over the years and they all lived in rather modest houses. I don’t even know any wealthy lawyers.

    Since you’re looking at a study from the UK, you need to ask them what they mean by “engineers” – do they really mean engineers or automotive mechanics?

    Did the study bother to look at people working on mine sites? In the developed world hte mine workers are typically paid a lot but IQ is barely above that of a potato. I don’t envy their jobs though; you couldn’t pay me enough to work in a mine.

    I’ll have to read the study myself but I get the impression it’s a bullshit study with faulty methods and ridiculous conclusions. Oh, hang on – IQ was mentioned so I can be fairly confident it’s a bullshit study.

  3. Well, I’ll have to wait for results of the ‘study’ to be published in a journal rather than a press release. If the press release is anything like the study, I doubt the material is acceptable for publication. The phrase “fishing expedition” comes to mind; I’m even more convinced now that it’s just a bullshit study.

  4. “the developed world hte mine workers are typically paid a lot but IQ is barely above that of a potato. ”


  5. [1]Azkyroth: Why? Does it surprise you?

    Madscientist: I also am wondering about the translation across from UK to elsewhere. Given that, be prepared to adjust your assertions about doctors and lawyers either way. If the experiences you cite are US then they are not relevant. Do you have some reason for suggesting that mine workers in the developing world are potato-like? Wanna re-think that?

  6. @Isabel and Greg: Yes, I was being an asshole with the mine workers comment; I apologize. By the way Greg, I said ‘developed’, not ‘developing’.

    Mine sites, oil platforms, and so on typically have a wide variety of people ranging from the highly educated to those who have barely finished high school. My point is, what is a “top profession”? If “top profession” depends solely on income then why is it stereotypically physician/lawyer and the occasional banker? Why aren’t the laborers and specialists in mines ranked in “top professions”?

    The other question is “what’s IQ got to do with anything?” In the press release a “trend” is claimed but accountants are singled out as bucking that trend. From the information presented I can’t even imagine why such a trend is claimed; it looks like a classic case of cherry picking. Mere scores through the ages don’t help either unless the same questions are asked, and we know that is not the case for any government exams which claim to evaluate scholastic achievement. Oh well, all that may simply be a result of the press release not having any useful information whatsoever.

    To quote a cliche, the proof’s in the pudding. Let’s see the methodology laid out, the hypotheses stated and the means for proving or disproving the hypothesis set out. Without all that, I don’t see how we can say this is anything more than fishing for results in a sea of data.

  7. Ahh… .well, yes, a friend of mine went into drilling … he’s a science driller but was looking for work so he joined a crew working in Nebraska or someplace. He was confident that he would be able to start at the lowest level and be running the crew in a few months.

    It ended up taking a few days. Most of the crew were so strung out on crack that if anything tricky had to be done they woudl fuck it up and either get fired or get hurt.

  8. Wait, why is not a surprise that engineers and nurses started out with the lowest IQ scores?

    Maybe it’s the engineer major in me that’s taking offense, but it’s not as easy to feign your way through an upper division engineering course as it is an equivalent level humanities course.

  9. [1]Azkyroth: Why? Does it surprise you?

    Engineers having on average lower IQs than doctors or lawyers is indeed surprising given the ratios of intellectual creativity to regurgitation of memorized information required for success in the respective fields.

  10. @Stellar Sasquatch: That’s why I was asking about what the authors meant by “engineer”; in the UK that typically means “auto mechanic” and in 1970s Ohio that meant “train driver” although we’d usually say “locomotive engineer”. Even with “nurse”, what I once knew as a “nurse” has long been called a “registered nurse” as opposed to the “nurse” which is not on the registry of nurses and whom we used to call “orderlies”. Many engineering professions at the start of the period being looked at weren’t even recognized as engineers in those days – for example, electronics engineers and computer engineers. So I have numerous questions on terminology based on my own US bias, but I’m pretty sure that electronics and computer engineers didn’t exist by that name around 1956. Oh, I also grew up knowing the “garbage collector” but these days I’m told the guy is a “sanitary engineer”.

  11. Great. I just spent an 80 hour week getting a 25 million gate ASIC design working because I was able to visualize nearly the whole thing in my head at once and figure out the glitch, and I get an “engineers am teh dumb” story. 😉

    Yeah, I’m snarking, but still. Sheesh. We’re so picked on despite giving the world the iPhone, the Hoover Dam and the Audi TT RS. Others are probably right about the UK version of the word engineer, though. Although I wouldn’t bad mouth doctors or lawyers. Well, OK, maybe lawyers, but not doctors. I’d totally be a Dr. Gregory House if I became a doctor and get sued for rudeness every week.

  12. Oh, I also grew up knowing the “garbage collector” but these days I’m told the guy is a “sanitary engineer”.

    And, curiously, a garbage collection is now a computer science term. 🙂 Things have come full circle, or… something. An infinite loop perhaps. I’m very tired.

  13. When there are inferences about IQ, it is generally a good bet that one can take the results with a grain of salt. While there are a few things that IQ is a reasonable measure of, actual intelligence is not one of them.

    I would tend to think – and if I end up in academia, I may get the chance to actually test my hypothesis – that rather than intelligence going down as we age, we simply become too distracted to reasonably take the damned test. Given time and focus, I end up with one score – just taking one without such focus, it comes out lower. And since I have gone back to school, I am able to score about where I was at thirteen.

    But really, even if I am incorrect, given what we understand about IQ now, there is little reason to give a whole lot of credence to studies that integrate IQ. Unless the goal is to seek out factors that will level the playing field, all it is doing is restating the obvious – people with certain advantages in life are going to manage better on IQ tests. The thing is, we know this is the case and we even have a pretty good idea what to emphasize with children to level the field – reading to and with children – encouraging them to write – talking to them – encourage them to listen to people talking and encourage them to think about what has been communicated to them.

    Now when someone wants to do a study on that, we have something useful coming out of the IQ discussion. Until then, it is just more of the same old fucking bullshit.

    And Madscientist, that was more than asshole – that was fucking obnoxious, apology or not.

  14. Actually, we do know how to increase all components of IQ several standard deviations well into advanced old age. Fluid intelligence as well as learned. Terman’s high IQ kids had lost as average of 22 IQ points by age 40. Which may explain their relative lack of success winning Nobel Prizes.

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  15. Here’s another source from an American research journal on occupational IQ; as far as professions go, engineers appear to be at the top.

    Group N Range 10% Q-1 Median Q-3 90%
    Engineers – 52
    Full 116-148 121 127 133 135 140
    Verbal 110-144 120 125 130 136 140
    Performance 114-145 119 124 129 133 137
    Professionals I – 52
    Full 113-141 120 126 132 134 137
    Verbal 109-144 121 126 134 136 141
    Performance 99-137 115 119 124 129 132
    Educators – 45
    Full 104-141 118 123 129 134 137
    Verbal 106-143 112 123 129 134 137
    Performance 95-139 112 117 125 132 135
    Professionals II – 61
    Full 106-143 117 123 128 133 138
    Verbal 112-143 117 123 128 132 137
    Performance 94-141 111 118 124 129 136
    Teachers – 421
    Full 94-152 114 120 126 132 137
    Verbal 94-145 113 120 126 131 137
    Performance 83-161 108 115 123 130 134
    Social Service – 66
    Full 108-145 117 121 125 132 135
    Verbal 105-145 114 118 124 133 136
    Performance 95-146 106 113 122 129 134
    Managers – 134
    Full 92-146 113 120 125 130 136
    Verbal 81-140 110 118 124 131 135
    Performance 91-154 109 115 122 129 135
    Nurses – 191
    Full 93-141 113 118 124 128 132
    Verbal 99-143 110 115 121 127 131
    Performance 78-145 102 114 125 130 136
    Arts – 62
    Full 74-147 109 117 124 131 138
    Verbal 73-142 107 115 120 127 136
    Performance 78-145 102 114 125 130 136
    Sales – 153
    Full 95-142 105 112 122 128 132
    Verbal 93-143 101 111 120 128 133
    Performance 93-144 103 111 118 125 130
    Secretaries – 107
    Full 92-135 108 114 121 125 130
    Verbal 94-134 107 114 120 125 130
    Performance 88-136 102 108 118 126 129
    Bookkeepers – 55
    Full 99-137 105 109 117 125 129
    Verbal 98-141 102 107 115 125 129
    Performance 94-141 101 107 114 120 125
    Clerks – 128
    Full 74-140 97 105 116 122 131
    Verbal 76-145 99 106 117 122 127
    Performance 69-140 94 103 114 121 129
    Office Workers – 62
    Full 88-139 99 108 116 123 128
    Verbal 89-135 98 104 113 122 127
    Performance 81-141 97 106 115 124 128
    Skilled Labor – 107
    Full 87-139 103 110 115 123 127
    Verbal 82-136 98 106 114 120 127
    Performance 93-136 102 108 117 122 126
    Personal Service – 57
    Full 54-130 79 92 106 113 122
    Verbal 59-132 80 90 104 115 121
    Performance 54-129 84 99 105 114 119

    Professionals I — physicians, dentists, lawyers
    Educators — college deans and instructors, high school and grammar school principals
    Professionals II — pharmacists, accountants
    Social Service — social workers, clergy
    Managers — small business owners, retail store managers, office managers, foremen
    business executives, small manufacturers.
    Arts — singers, dancers, musicians, actors, artists, designers, commercial artists
    Sales — all inside and outside sales people, wholesale and retail
    Office Workers — stenographers, comptometer operators, typists, receptionists,
    telephone switchboard operators
    Skilled Labor — machinists, automobile and aircraft mechanics, radio and television
    repairmen, plumbers, electricians
    Personal Service — barbers, beauticians, waiters, food handlers, soda fountain
    attendants, domestics


    The above link takes you to the GRE data, which while not a pure IQ test per se, seems to match up rather well with IQ data. When I took the GRE in the late 80’s they showed roughly the same data, teachers were the lowest rated of anyone going to grad school. Back then the analytical was multiple choice vice written, so engineers like me tended to do well and quantitative and analytical (I got 800 on both) and then my verbal was off, like 680 I think.

    anyway, that correlates to an IQ on the high side of 160 for me. my mom, a nurse, scores around 145 on IQ tests.

    At least in America, nurses and engineers seem to draw high IQ people who are not to the manor born, while lawyers and doctors tend to be more born to money.

    Funny thing I just saw about the Law Schools in CA, they are adding .3333 to all students GPA so they can get a better job. The argument being, they paid $150,000 for a law degree, they better be able to get a job. So there you have it, law school particularly is seen as a way to buy your kid a good job. Can’t imagine an engineering school doing that…

  17. A common definition of intelligence is learning from experience. A better definition would be learning from someone else’s experience. As an octogenarian, retired engineer/physicist with an involved medical history it is my considered experience based opinion that the doctors I have met as a patient are not too bright. Of course, they may be smarter than they’re letting on while they collect kickbacks from the drug industry. But then, they are victims of the medical drug complex that controls their education and entry into the schools that generate them. Actually, it appears to me that doctors in general are not analytical, but rather trained to relate symptoms to pharmaceutical products. In any event after having figured this out, I opted out of the system, take no pharmaceutical drugs, and use my visits to doctors to obtain the necessary tests to keep track of my general condition. Other than that, a good organic food based diet, exercise and generous use of supplements seems to work well. Additionally, Internet based information gathering keeps the mind stimulated. To wit: I pose Larry’s Law — if information can be ignored or misunderstood, it will be.

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